Why do we default to truth when someone is lying? Most people default to truth until their doubt and the facts tell them otherwise.
My default belief has been set using the 80/20 rule. 80% of people tell the truth and do the right thing. Based on Talking with Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, it’s a reasonable starting point.
However, I was in a meeting with healthcare executives when the physician founder challenged my belief. He believed only 20% of people do the right thing and that most will act in their own self interest.
Work vs. Life
So which is it? It’s something that I’ve been rumbling with since that meeting. Let me start this discussion by sharing some additional input from colleagues that will help you understand why.
The Director of Health and Safety for a large employer organization believes 60% of physicians fudge the facts to turn medical claims into worker’s comp claims to get higher reimbursement [aka: payment].
A Finance Executive in private equity shared that he believes everyone seeking financing from them is lying. The only way they get to the truth is doing careful due diligence even if the company has been audited. They don’t put much faith in auditors either.
What I learned is that context matters. These people don’t believe everyone is lying all the time but in a professional context [and more specifically when money is involved] their default level of trust is lower. Whether it’s experience that has raised their level of doubt or use of data, they have learned to verify the facts rather than trust what people say.
In the broader context of life, we don’t always have data readily available to tell us whether or not someone is lying or telling the truth.
No one is good at spotting a liar. Looking someone in the eyes, reading their body language or talking to them doesn’t make you a good judge of truth. In fact, these attempts to discern truth blur whatever facts are available and consequently, rarely result in the right answer.
We have to believe people are generally good even if they tell a lie or two. Society wouldn’t function if we didn’t.
However, when we have doubt, we need to look to the data and trust the facts so that our feelings and biases don’t blur our judgement.
As with any Malcom Gladwell book, Talking with Strangers is brimming with great stories – and yes facts.
Talking with Strangers includes several stories about rape and why it’s hard for people to discern the facts in legal cases. The stories clarify the laws in each case, highlight the added issues if someone is intoxicated and discusses what constitutes consent.
Post #metoo everyone should have a clear understanding of these cases to help guide their behavior and to judge the facts. It’s worth your time to read the book.