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When Presentation Overpowers Message

Balance

Presentation and message are like a duet. One part should complement the other. When that doesn’t happen, when one overpowers the other, deception and truth are likely revealed.

In my book, “Getting the Truth,” I often talk about “artillery,” which is the use of jargon, signs, attitude, amplitude, body language, almost anything to help convince another that we are telling the complete truth. Artillery is often used to obfuscate deceptive messages. 

Let’s look at President Bill Clinton’s denial of his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinski: 

He was “emphatic,” “wagging his finger,” “stared into a bank of TV cameras,” then used several introductions to his denial: “I want to say one thing;” I want you to listen to me;” and “I’m going to say this again.” Several introductions along with all that artillery before the actual denial (the message), “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” 

This is a good example of the presentation overpowering the message. It’s an effective tactic. The actual denial (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky”) is a good one if it stands alone. However, it does not because of the introductions and artillery that precede it. The message is intentionally buried.

Lance Armstrong used this tactic to perfection in his denials of drug use: "I came out of a life-threatening disease. I was on my death bed. You think I'm going to come back into a sport and say, `OK, OK doctor, give me everything you've got, I just want to go fast?' No way! I would never do that," – public forum, Aspen, Colo., 2007. If the presentation is overpowering, the message is likely deceptive. 

So, what happens when the message overpowers the presentation. 

Let’s say someone is accused of a crime and responds with the simple, “I didn’t do it.” Now that message isn’t overpowered by presentation – in fact, it’s an understatement. We might expect something more convincing, more compelling, more forceful. The message is informal, simple, direct, and precise. It is the best denial there is if, and only if, everyone knows exactly what “it” is. When the message overpowers the presentation, the message may well be truthful, especially if it is unsolicited. 

So, sense the balance between the presentation and the message. When one overpowers the other, you need to be alert and read between the lines. 

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The Cosby Prosecution

ProsecutorSteele

Listen to Montgomery County Prosecutor Kevin Steele announce the criminal charges against Bill Cosby yesterday, 12/30/15 (go to 33 seconds):

Prosecutor Steele Announces Decision to Prosecute

Notice he states: "We are here to announce today charges that have just been filed against William Henry Cosby ....." Further notice he uses the "We" pronoun at the very beginning, but chooses to avoid using it again when he states, "charges that have just been filed." He could have said, "We are here to announce today charges we just filed against William Henry Cosby ..," but he didn't.

These language subtleties are not insignificant. They provide insight into the person's thinking at the time. Notice in my rendition there are 8 words between the "We" and "filed." In his statement there are 10. He is pushing himself away from "charges that have just been filed," by increasing the physical distance in the sentence between "We" and the "charges" and by obscuring who filed the charges. His verbiage, "have been filed" is passive which helps to further obscure ownership whereas mine is active and more precise. Who filed the charges? Of course we know his office did, but why not say it? We need to ask ourselves, why?

Is it because Prosecutor Steele isn’t comfortable with the charges? Maybe his staff disagrees with his decision? Does he lack confidence in these actions? Is his empathy for the alleged victim(s) overpowering? Does he have political concerns? After all, he is an elected official and serves the people.

Prosecutors have wide latitude in making prosecutorial decisions. On tough decisions, they can share the decision-making with a grand jury They can also decide to file charges and “let the jury decide.” In this case, he could have allowed the Statute of Limitations to expire, insisting on the need for further evidence.

He knows this will be a long and difficult prosecution. His predecessor declined prosecution. He had options, but he chose to take it head on and file the charges. But then he distances himself from the decision with this announcement. So, why?

Maybe the answer came just after the announcement when the victim expressed her appreciation for his decision to prosecute. Or when many of the alleged victims felt genuine relief and joy to see some of their credibility restored, at least for a day.  Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe that, alone, is a successful prosecution.

Get Mr. Koenig's book, "Getting the Truth"

Peyton Manning's Denial

Manning

In a statement Saturday night (12/26/15), Manning said:

“The allegation that I would do something like that is complete garbage and is totally made up. It never happened. Never.”

He added, “I really can’t believe somebody would put something like this on the air. Whoever said this is making stuff up.” 

Is this a good denial? 

Let’s first look at the underlying allegation. Al Jazeera is reporting the Guyer Clinic sent HGH (Human Growth Hormone) to Ashley Manning, Mr. Manning’s wife. The implication is Mr. Manning used HGH. 

Manning's statement, again with important words underlined:
“The allegation that I would do something like that is complete garbage and is totally made up. It never happened. Never.”
He added, “I really can’t believe somebody would put something like this on the air. Whoever said this is making stuff up.” 

I often talk about making sure the presentation doesn’t overpower the message. Here, Mr. Manning’s emphasis is on the allegation, not the allegation’s underlying implication that he used HGH. 

He could have said, “I never used HGH.” Instead his response is a statement full of wiggle words and ambiguity. He focused on the allegation, not the implication. Simple, precise, and direct denials are best. 

Mr. Manning never denied using HGH, which goes to the heart of the allegation. And since he did not, we wonder if there is something to it. Once again, poor denials keep allegations alive. 
 

Get Mr. Koenig's book, "Getting the Truth," at Getting the Truth

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