Two Truths, or a Lie?

By Laura Morgan, a Managing Partner at MorganHR  

Have you ever heard anyone truly use the “my dog ate my homework” excuse?  I don’t think so as I’m sure many would agree that people have a great ability to dodge a negative more creatively.  No? As a mom of four spanning 14 years among them, I’ve been lucky to have been regularly entertained by my kids’ responses made by my children when I challenge them to explain their naughty behavior.  “Honey, didn’t we tell you not to bring food upstairs?” and the response, “well, I had it in my hand when you asked me to go get [that thing] and I forgot it after laying it on the dresser.” “Sweetheart, how is it that your grades are slipping?  Are you getting your homework in on time?” and the response, “well, you wanted me in all of those sports and do those chores.”  “Honey, why is your tub so filthy?  What did you use that is pink?” and the response, “I don’t know.  It just is pink.  I have no idea” to later see in the garbage a wrapper of a bath bomb. 

The saying goes that two truths create a lie. This statement is rooted in the idea that telling only part of the truth, or making a false statement, can be more damaging than outright lying. And it turns out, science agrees with this idea. 

In his TED Talk on “The Power and Peril of Storytelling,” psychologist Dr. Rosen explains how “We’re all natural storytellers.” Everything we do is affected by our personal stories–even when those stories may not be accurate. In other words, when we tell partial truths or omit information in order to portray ourselves in an approved light, we actually risk coming across as less trustworthy and less credible than someone who tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 

Do you think it is possible that every human has told one lie at least in their lifetime?  What about every year?  What about every week?  Or every day?  Do you wonder?  Now, I’m a mom and, to give me some credit, I have been in HR for more than 30 years.  While not a psychologist, I have been told that I am a pretty good lie detector.  It is just incredible to look back on my career and remember how often people just lie flat out, to your face.  One trick I learned from the lying experts, was the ‘two truths tactic’ – put two truths together and they can deceive the people in the room.  For example, one leader told me that she got the approval for a salary change that was pretty extreme.  I asked her did her leader really approve it.  She said, “Laura, I spoke with them.  He was okay with the recommendation.”  What I realized was that she did speak with them, but didn’t get approval for this specific recommendation but for another one.  Two truths.  Very creative. 

There are many memories of lies being shared.  Heck, there are games to encourage good lying.  Now back to my skills as a mom.  I have learned that when all else fails, tell your children that they better cover their mouths when they lie because their lies have colorful words that you can see.  Good luck.