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The Costanza Principle of Communication

"And I'm kinda engaged."

“And I’m kinda engaged.”

“Jerry remember; It’s not a lie if you believe it.” – George Costanza (Jason Alexander)

Why do we do it? Half-truths, soft-sells, euphemisms, white lies, and whoppers. Some do it more than others; some are more comfortable doing it than others, but we are all guilty of telling lies. Removing sociopaths from the equation, you can narrow down 99% of lies down to four basic reasons:

  1. We don’t want to get in trouble.
  2. We don’t want to be embarrassed.
  3. We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.
  4. We want to exaggerate our accomplishments.

It’s really no more complicated than that, even if we like to paint ourselves as “above” this kind of behavior. When you detect less than forthcoming information, these are your options for defining the motivation behind the deceit. And, since we spend more & more of our time at work, we are more likely to hear some current corporate “whoppers”:

  • We are a performance-based culture.” – Well, maybe in theory, but in practice….? Meh. It’s a reality that some people will be judged by a different scale. Personal bias, empathy, absence of management, and/or a lack of any meaningful differentiation make this statement (often times, not always) ring hollow.
  • We don’t expect any significant changes.” – Uh oh. This is the corporate equivalent for those times your wife says “Nothing’s wrong;” it may not be now, but at some point that statement points to bad things ahead.
  • We empower every employee.” – Most HR people are familiar with the success stories of SW Airlines, Pizza Hut, Xerox, and a few others who created a true culture of employee empowerment. We all know those stories b/c they are the exception, not the rule. It’s a major commitment to relinquish decision-making power, so be wary of anyone who is saying this rather than practicing this.
  • “_______________” – This is the sound of silence. Easily the most frequent abuse of truthful communication. Leadership is usually hesitant, as opposed to deliberately deceitful, but the employee interpretation often make the two indistinguishable. We are trained to be especially attentive to blackouts in communication as a sign of impending bad news.
  • We are not just a company, we’re a family.” – Let me clarify that I don’t necessarily think this is an intentional lie, but a hopeful disillusionment. Remember, your company (no matter how it is phrased) does not love you. That’s why they pay you instead of hug you.

You can only control your own behavior; so, as you consider your next rationalization, “spin,” or political response, choose instead to tell the truth.

Even George Costanza recognizes the value of “doing the opposite.”

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ Straight talk, no-nonsense approach to workplace issues. 

Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn for more samplings of the Hardball message.

Talent Acquisition Executive, team-builder, and full-time dreamweaver. Creative Director, Content Designer, Writer, Speaker, Entrepreneur, terrible golfer, lover of The Art of War & Texas Hold 'Em.

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{ 2 comments… add one }

  • June 6, 2013, 12:16 pm

    I heard he was an architect too.

  • hrhardball
    June 11, 2013, 2:47 pm

    and you know how he makes those interesting comments during ballgames? He could be a sportscaster