A lie by any other name is still a lie (as Chump Lady so frequently reminds us), but a new variant of the dishonest bullshit we’ve all been subjected to has been given some new attention recently.
According to the dictionary, to palter is “to talk or act insincerely or deceitfully; lie or use trickery.” In the world of business and negotiation, paltering is a means of using ‘technically true’ information to get a better deal. In the world of infidelity, paltering is psychological weapon for getting, or keeping, the upper hand on a chump.
According a recent Forbes article, paltering differs from two other deceptive practices:
- Lying by commission — the active use of false statements (i.e., flat out denying that any cheating is taking place)
- Lying by omission — the holding back of relevant information (i.e., never mentioning that cheating is taking place)
In contrast, examples of paltering would include any statements that allow the cheater to rationalize that (s)he is telling a truthful statement, while maintaining the deception so critical to cheating — for example: “I am not seeing Schmoopie at this time.”
What’s left unsaid is: “Right now. As I stand here talking to you, my lovely chump. See? You can’t say I’m lying.”
Kunty Kibbler was an enthusiast of this particular bit of mindfuckery. One of the more harmless examples was spoken in the throes of my attempts to get her to realize what she was throwing away. She said: “I want us to be able to look back on life and be able to say, ‘what a crazy, wild ride it’s been’.”
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? And technically true. Left unsaid was that she obviously had no intention of looking back on life together with her husband. She wants that heartwarming bit of reflection solely for herself – and if I’m somehow able to say the same someday, that’s a minor kibble that she, in her awesomeness, is willing to toss my way. (In a far more insidious instance, she used several statements of paltering to lead the Carrot Singer to believe I was physically abusing her.)
Another article from the Harvard Business Review points to image management as the key motivator for paltering:
“Here is an interesting fact that explains why people prefer paltering over telling outright lies: It allows them to maintain an image of themselves as honest and trustworthy individuals (after all, their paltering was truthful). We all care about being good people and being seen by others as such. In fact, when it comes to honesty, we generally believe we are better than others.”
Yet another article from the Boston Globe notes:
One occasional advantage of paltering over lying is plausible deniability: You can blame any misunderstanding on the listener. Without knowing the speaker’s intentions, it’s difficult to diagnose paltering with certainty says Todd Rogers, a behavioral scientist at the Kennedy School and the paper’s lead author.
So, how best to guard against paltering? Again, from the Globe article:
“If you ask a specific question, that specific question should be answered, not a variant of it,” Rogers says, even though insistence on clarification “often makes you look like a jerk.” Paltering relies on our tendency to trust others and not cause a scene. “It’s pretty amazing how much you can get away with because of people’s truth bias,” says David Clementson, a researcher at Ohio State University’s School of Communication, who was not involved in the study. “Paltering totally takes advantage of that, diabolically and deceptively.”