Truth or Fiction? Surviving a Summer of Alternative Facts

Some variation of “To tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” has been a tenet of both theistic and democratic law since the inception of each. The repercussions of lying used to make kindergarten students tremble in their Buster Brown shoes, but lately has been open to a host of creative interpretations. Frankly, whether you’re a politician, a sports figure, a press secretary or an actor, we’re all getting a little too comfortable playing fast and loose with the facts. 

Our collective obsession with truth and fiction dominates the news media. The phrase “alternative facts” is both reviled and revered. National Geographic Magazine’s June 2017 cover story examines “Why We Lie – The Science of Our Deceptive Ways.” In a monumental example of journalistic bean counting, the New York Times June 23rd Opinion Page took the unprecedented move of cataloging what they termed every mistruth uttered this year by a certain high profile U.S. politico.

So, with all the rumors, half-truths and potential bald-faced lies percolating out there, how come the nation’s capital has not yet been leveled by a celestial lightning bolt?

Okay, that’s a rhetorical question. I’m not going to get all theological on you, but generally speaking, lying is bad. It causes stress for the originator and propagates a lack of trust with the receiver. And, no matter how silver the tongue may be, eventually the lie and the liar gets exposed. Even if you intend to tell the truth, the current environment means we’re likely grappling with a national epidemic of distrust. So how do you sow seeds of truth when skepticism is skyrocketing? The truth is, organizing a verifiable story takes work, but these techniques will help you get started in building a bond of trust with your audience:

1. Prove It:
The difference between a tall tale and a truthful tale is in the tangible evidence. Organize clear, descriptive proof points that are irrefutable and easy for an audience to reference. And, recognize you must now become a ruthless fact checker for the sake of your own credibility.

2. Be Confident but Show Restraint:
The quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet says it all, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Tone is everything. The more you insist you are right, the more likely people will question your motivation, so balance your confidence with a measure of restraint.

3. Mobilize Your Network:
Let’s shift from Shakespeare to a modern contemporary and fellow luminary, Homer J. Simpson, who opined, “It takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen.” A believable story always gets a boost with a little help from your friends, so, to limit skeptics, avoid sharing your POV in a vacuum whenever possible. Expressing a truth is all the more powerful with reinforcements; be sure to recruit credible third parties to endorse and verify your point of view.

4. Let Your Face Speak For You:
Many experts cite visual cues such as shifty eyes and nose scratching as evidence that someone is lying so it’s imperative to use the powers of your facial expression for good. Direct eye contact, a natural smile and a clear, strong voice will convey confidence and your honest intentions.

Open, honest communication, coupled with the twin pillars of credibility and formal communications training, can empower any leader and spokesperson to deliver messages that break through and withstand the rigors of any modern-day sniff test.