How to avoid sounding like a liar

Piggy-bank pig with its mouth masking taped shut, illustrating a blog about why being passive costs pounds.

If you want to convince, cajole or connect to your audience, don’t use the language of liars.

A recent video by psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman looks at the myths and truths of how to spot a fibber. Wiseman says a lot of the supposed visual signs of lying turn out to be fake. Just because someone’s fidgeting or looking at the ceiling, doesn’t mean they’re telling porkies. Where you can find the truth about lying, apparently, is in the words your suspect uses.

Wiseman says that liars:

  • use qualifying language, like ‘to be honest…’ to give them time to work out what to say
  • use formal language – like saying ‘I cannot remember’ instead of ‘I can’t remember’
  • remove themselves from the story by avoiding pronouns like I, mine and myself
  • stumble and hesitate, rather than tell a story that flows well

Unfortunately for liars, most of us are instinctively well-tuned to the language of lying. When we hear people talk like that, it sounds strange. It sets off alarm bells, making us think twice about what we’re hearing.

So it’s surprising that so much business writing uses the language of liars. It says things like this:

It’s important to note that, subject to additional terms and conditions, compensation may only be offered following receipt of the correct documentation, which can be supplied on request.

It qualifies and waffles. It’s formal. It avoids pronouns and it lacks a flowing narrative. Writing like this is a really bad idea if you’re trying to win your reader’s trust, support or loyalty, or simply trying to get them to do something. Instead, try something like this:

If you want your money back, please ask for our refund form. Then fill it in and send it back to us.

There are lots of other reasons to be to-the-point and conversational in business writing. To use pronouns and a flowing narrative. When you do, you’ll help your writing to be clear, vivid and real – so your story makes sense, your ideas come to life, and your message sticks. And you’ll help to build a relationship with your reader.

According to Professor Wiseman (and who are we to doubt a man with such a name), you’ll also avoid sounding like a liar. And if you believe that…