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What Should You Do When The Other Person Is Lying?

by Larry Susskind
August 2009

From Larry Susskind's blog on the Consensus Building Approach

Larry Susskind
There's a lot of confusion about the best way to respond to a lie. One strategy is to ignore it and act as if the statement was never made. I guess folks who take this tack hope they'll avoid giving a false statement any traction. A second response is to suggest that the person making the statement probably didn't realize what he or she was saying. This approach presumes that its always best to give someone the benefit of the doubt and presume there's just a misunderstanding on their part. I don't think so. From my standpoint, the most effective response to a lie is to name it, frame it, and claim it.

If I think someone is lying -- that is, deliberating making a statement they know to be false, I'll say that out loud: "That's a lie." Or, "Wow, another whopper." Yes, I'm giving visibility to the statement, but, from my standpoint, I'd rather the statement be labeled as a lie than allowed to stand unchallenged.

That's not enough. It is important to why I think the statement is a lie and to suggest what the motive of the lier might be. I call this framing. Motive is important. If I can't think of any reason the person making the statement might have for misrepresenting the truth, then I might chalk their statement up to ignorance or reckless disregard for the truth. So, for me to call something I lie, I have to believe that the person making the statement has a motive for misrepresenting the truth. I link my characterization of their motive with the evidence that ought to convince any neutral observer that their statement is untrue. "That's a lie. That's not what it says on page 1014. They are obviously are trying to make the President look bad." Or, "No, that's not what happened on that date. They obviously would rather have us believe something that casts them in a better light. Here's reliable information to the contrary."

Finally, I think it is important to "own" my claim that their statement is a lie. That means, I'm need to be confrontable. If I'm going to call someone a lier, I ought to do it in a very public way -- to their face, if possible. I'm certainly not going to do it anonymously. The credibility of my characterization of their motive hinges, in part, on my willingness to stand behind my charge. "That's a lie. She is just trying to gain publicity for herself and play to her constituency. The bill doesn't say that at all. In fact, there's what it says. I'd love a chance to meet with her and have her show me exactly where it says that in the text of the bill."

Name it as a lie. Frame it by postulating the lier's motive and offering evidence to the contrary (that any neutral observer would accept). And, claim responsibility for your counter-charge.

If someone else has a different view of how to respond to a lie, I'd love to hear it.

Biography


Lawrence Susskind was born in New York City in 1947. He graduated from Columbia University in 1968 with a B.A. in English Literature and Sociology. He received his Masters of City Planning from MIT in 1970 and his Ph.D. in Urban Planning from MIT in 1973. 

Professor Susskind joined the faculty of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planningin 1971. He served first as Associate Head and then as Head of that Department from 1974 through 1982. He was appointed full professor in 1986 and Ford Professor of Urban & Environmental Planning in 1995. As head of the Environmental Policy Group in the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT, he currently teaches four courses (Negotiation and Dispute Resolution in the Public Sector (11.255), International Environmental Negotiation (11.364) taught jointly with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Multi-party Negotiation (11.257) taught jointly with Harvard Law School, and Use of Joint Fact-Finding in Science-Intensive Policy Disputes (11.941)), oversees a research budget of approximately $250,000 annually, and supervises more than a dozen masters and doctoral dissertations a year.

From 1982-1985, Professor Susskind served as the first Executive Director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School-- an inter-university consortium for the improvement of theory and practice in the field of dispute resolution. He currently holds an appointment at Harvard as Vice-Chair for Instruction, and Director of the Public Disputes Program at Harvard Law School. Professor Susskind is responsible for an extensive series of action-research projects, the training of senior executives, and serves on the Editorial Board of Negotiation Journal and as head of the Clearinghouse at the Program on Negotiation. He has developed more than fifty simulations (distributed by the Clearinghouse at the Program on Negotiation) that are used to teach negotiation, dispute resolution, and consensus building throughout the world. 

Professor Susskind is one of the country's most experienced public and environmental dispute mediators and a leading figure in the dispute resolution field. He has mediated more than fifty complex disputes related to the siting of controversial facilities, the setting of public health and safety standards, the formulation and implementation of development plans and projects, and conflicts among racial and ethnic groups -- serving on occasion as a special court-appointed master.

 



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Website: www.lawrencesusskind.com

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