We’ve all seen a common tactic people employ when they’re angry at a specific group. At some point one of the groups involved in an intragroup conflict will make a false statement. This happens all the time in intragroup fights and disagreements. And what’s next is an event most people have seen: someone in the other group will accuse the group who made the false statement of lying. It’s a natural reaction and happens all the time. It’s also very often not accurate.
A lie is not a descriptor that applies to all untrue statements. An untrue statement can be made without it being a lie. A lie requires intention, specifically intention to deceive. If I go up to you and make a statement that is untrue that by itself doesn’t mean I’m lying to you. I could have made a statement that is not reflective of reality but sincerely believed it to be true, and that’s not a lie. In order to prove a lie it is necessary for someone to not only prove a statement to be untrue but also that someone demonstrate there was an intention to deceive. This is a high burden of proof and that matters. Not all, and possibly not even most untrue statements that people make are lies.
Mediators and communicators have a shared task:
If you’re involved in a conflict between two or more people and you’re taking it upon yourself to be a positive participant and conflict transformer you’re an informal mediator. As such when rhetoric escalates you have a certain level of responsibility and a specific responsibility: to keep the dialogue open and civil. Part of that means knowing when to call out conflict actors for acting in bad faith and oftentimes accusations that people are lying are folks acting in bad faith.
This is a task many communicators also have. This is a simple but continuous task that challenges pretty much everyone who has it. It’s a consistent task that will need to be repeated over and over in conflict settings and discourse as well as in messaging and in even friendly dialogue between competitors and folks who share resources, objectives, and relationships of various types.
How have you approached this task? What have you done to call out rash and frustrated accusations of lies that lack evidence? How would you approach this if you were a mediator or communicator who was tasked with keeping dialogue and conversations civil?