You may be planning a surprise party for a friend and need to get them there on time. You may want to propose to your beau in a dramatic and memorable fashion. You may be taking part in a practical joke on a co-worker. Maybe you're just playing an enjoyable game of Balderdash. In any case, there are good and noble reasons to lie to people in the right circumstances. When these arise, it's important to be prepared.
NOTE: We do not advocate lying for personal gain, selfish manipulation, misleading a trial lawyer, committing adultery, or any other general violation of the Ninth Commandment. Anyone who says otherwise is itching for a fight. Like any information, these rules can be used for Good or for Evil.
- Cultivate honesty. If your listener is someone who knows you, make sure they know they can trust you most of the time. Being honest ninety-nine percent of the time is the best way to make sure the other one percent is accepted at face value. If your listener doesn't know you well, then make sure you appear to be someone trustworthy. Clean clothes, neat hair, wide eyes, and (for women) pleasant makeup generally work for this -- unless you're talking to someone who reflexively distrusts those people, in which case you should try to look and act like they do.
- Get your story straight ahead of time. It takes skill and practice to tell a convincing lie on the spot, and if you had those, then you wouldn't need to read this. Far better to prepare your lie ahead of time, for several reasons. It gives you a chance to work out the logical inconsistencies first. It gives you time to memorize the details (see rule #4). And it helps you to "fool" yourself with the lie, making it easier to appear truthful.
- Maintain eye contact and don't smile. If you crack a smile, or worse, laugh, it will doom you before you've begun. To avoid this, inexperienced liars will avoid looking their listener in the eye, which is just as bad. "Look me in the eye and tell me that again" is a cliche which you must be prepared for. If you've ever suspected or been told that you have certain giveaways when you lie -- fidgeting with your hands, blinking repeatedly, crossing your arms, whatever -- get rid of them. Whether you have time to prepare it or not, you need to be relaxed when you tell your lie.
- Don't leave out the details. Do sweat the small stuff. Anyone will believe a lie, provided it's big enough, so you need to make your lie bigger than the truth. The more details you provide, especially if they're unknowable ones, the more likely the person is to believe you:
Question: "What are you getting my sister for Valentine's Day?"
The whole idea is to give the appearance of supporting evidence to convince the listener that you're not making things up on the spot.
The Truth: "I bought a diamond ring and booked the weekend at a bed and breakfast for the two of us. And if I tell you, you'll give it away the second you see her."
The Weak Lie: "I bought her a dress."
The Better Lie: "I went out to Bloomingdale's Saturday morning and picked out a party dress for her. You know how much she likes red? Well, they had this amazing red sleeveless in her size, ended just above her knees with this little swirly design on the shoulder, you'll have to see it, I don't know how to describe it. Turns out it was on sale, the last one they had, so I took the extra money I'd saved and bought a satin bra-and-panties combination that matched it. I hope she's a 34B. She's going to look sooooo good in them."
- Remember what you lied about. Inconsistencies will kill you later on. Preparing your story in advance makes this easier, but by no means guaranteed. You need to be able to recall and recite the exact same lie and details on demand, at any time. Rehearsing your lie even after you've told it will help.
- Prepare your "witnesses." If it's at all possible the listener will check with your friends, family or acquaintances to verify your story, make sure they're in on the lie first, or at least a close second.
- Anticipate exposure. If you're found out, you may be tempted, for reasons of ego or panic, to compound the lie. This usually means lying on the spot, a dangerous choice since (if you've been following the list) you already had your story prepared with all the necessary details. You have two options now: either stick to your story, possibly supporting it with additional details you didn't need to disclose the first time, or...
- Come clean in the end. You may be found out, or the reason for the lie may be over with. In either case, being honest with the real truth and your reasons for lying are necessary to maintain your integrity (see rule #1).
The importance of rule #8 can't be stressed enough. Whatever your reasons might be, the listener needs to eventually hear from you that you were lying, and why. They may eventually find out on their own, or from someone else, that you were untruthful. Or they may already know and simply not tell you, to see just how untrustworthy you are. In any case, Honest really is the best policy for the long term.