In a Nutshell
Why do people talk crap?
Most people talk crap for purely self-serving purposes. They may lie to protect their image, for instance by denying that they have committed a violation of the law or broken a social rule. It’s also common for liars to engage in deception to protect something or someone they want or value, or to evade a punishment they would receive were someone else to discover the truth. You can think of this kind of talk as a suit of armour. A liar can hide behind it, and over time can even construct an entirely false persona.
Unfortunately, when lying works, someone is more likely to repeat the behaviour in the future. This drives a wedge between them and others, damaging their relationships. Lies can also hurt others directly.
For instance, when someone tries to offload the blame onto others or spread malicious gossip or fake news, relationships can be destroyed and reputations ruined overnight.
Luckily, once you understand how to detect crap, you can protect yourself against it
Disarm crap talk
You should actively expect others to talk nonsense from time to time, and accept that they are going to lie to you. When someone tells you something that doesn’t quite feel right, be sure to investigate further.
Questions—your best weapon against crap talk
When something doesn’t add up, ask the speaker a few probing questions. Questions such as “Why do you think that?” “Can you explain your reasoning here?” and “What is your evidence in support of that view?” push the other person to fabricate details, and they will eventually get caught out when their story doesn’t make sense. If someone tries to push a statistic or so-called “fact” on you, ask to see their sources. If they can’t send you a reliable link to a good source, chances are that they are misinformed or talking crap in order to advance their agenda.
Another sign that someone is talking crap is a reluctance to discuss the issue further, because they know that they will be exposed if you keep asking them questions. For example, if someone argues that redundancies in a company are “unavoidable” but then become evasive when asked to outline the decision-making process that resulted in this outcome, it’s likely that mistakes have been made and they are just covering up for their own incompetence.
Jargon is a big red flag
Sometimes, we have to use jargon in discussion. For instance, medical jargon will crop up in conversation among doctors and nurses. However, overly-complex words and needlessly elaborate jargon are often used to conceal lies or distort the truth. Don’t let anyone make you feel stupid. If you don’t understand something, keep asking clarifying questions until the speaker distills their message down to plain English. If they can’t or won’t do this, you should consider the possibility that they are trying to deceive you.
Get a third opinion if you can, preferably from someone with a background in the area. They will be able to tell you whether the jargon you have been hearing is just technical talk, or merely a vehicle for crap talk.
Here are two examples of how someone might use jargon to conceal what’s really going on:
“We are attempting to think outside the box and undergo and extensive company restructure that will facilitate the dynamic interpersonal collaboration of our two largest departments.”
In plain English, this means that the company is taking a new approach (“thinking outside the box”) by laying people off (“extensive company restructure”) and merging two departments together (“dynamic interpersonal collaboration”).
This kind of crap talk is used to confuse people and stop them asking questions that get to the real heart of the matter, i.e. the full story behind these changes and what it will mean for those whose jobs are on the line
If all else fails, give it time
Not only does time heal all wounds, but time tends to reveal all crap talk.
If someone tells a significant lie, it’s a matter of time before the truth comes out. For instance, a wife may deny that she is having an affair, but in the end she will likely get caught. To use a business context, a manager may maintain that everything is just fine in his team, but one day he will probably snap and tell the junior staff precisely what he thinks of them!
If someone is adamant that their view on an issue is correct, this should be verifiable via other sources. Depending on the situation, this might be mutual friends, colleagues, news sources, your personal experience, and scientific evidence. Don’t be afraid to confront the speaker with evidence that disproves their position if you can.
Cut the crap
The next time your gut instinct kicks in, pay close attention to what someone is saying and how they are saying it. If someone is speaking the truth, they won’t mind answering reasonable questions or explaining ideas in simple terms. Although it isn’t nice to think that most people lie at least occasionally, equipping yourself with the tools you need to spot lies will at least save you hassle at both work and home.