Especially if you ever become a politician, there may come a time when you may have to address an issue or confront questions that may call for something other than the “truth.” While most people publicly agree that telling the truth is always the best policy, those same people are apt to concur that such a view can often be dangerous; they would also agree, if particularly perceptive, that people who tell the truth are not necessarily the ones who do well in society. In the case of politicians, for example, the candidates who seem to do better are those who paint rosy pictures for people, tell them what they want to hear, and strive to say and do what is politically correct (as opposed to what is most efficient or beneficial). Only naïve people, though, believe that politicians are the only ones who have problems with the “truth.” Other people in our society are often put in compromising situations-instances when telling the truth can either be unnecessarily painful, professionally risky, or unacceptably costly. Rather than lying, though, what some people resort to is using one or more of the following crafty alternatives:
1. Change the subject. If done subtly and often enough, most people will back off. At the very least, this technique will help to confuse the issue, make it look as if the person asking or accusing is pushing too hard, or possibly turn the discussion into a totally new direction.
2. Tell a preferably-long, possibly-“cute,” supposedly-related-subject anecdote. People listening will assume that the answer will come either through the anecdote (indirectly) or at the end thereof. In some cases, listeners can be put to sleep or distracted long enough for the question or allegation to get lost in the “shuffle.”
3. Use the always-reliable “I’m sorry but we are out of time.” Oftentimes, this is why speakers set time limits on press conferences-then again, leaving the matter open lets the presenter designate when the event is over. Is the impromptu ending of a press conference a legitimate need to end the session or is it an attempt to escape from further questioning? There is no way to tell which one applies–why this is usually a safe option.
4. Delegate the matter to someone else, pass the buck or blame another person. “I’m sorry, but that issue falls under the parameters of our legal department-please ask them.” This approach is especially useful when a CEO or person in charge wants to make it appear as if he lets people under him do their own jobs or take responsibility for their own actions. On the other hand, staff members can use the same approach, ostensibly so that they do not step on other peoples’ toes. “You’ll have to ask Vice President Cheney about that,” for example, leaves the idea that Cheney knew more about the matter than the clown in charge, even if the poor guy (Cheney) was clueless about the matter. In general, though, underlings do not rat out their supervisors, if they want to keep their jobs, which is why they make such excellent hide-behind stepping stones.
5. Answer the question with another possibly-rhetorical question. “How long before this oil spill disaster’s repercussions can be said to have been fully expressed?” “How long does it take the wind, the ocean and biological processes to have their say?” When asked a question, a person can easily be put on the spot, especially if it all relates to a delicate issue. By throwing questions back at the inquirers, though, one can deflect or even put the burden back on them.
6. Don’t say anything. Sometimes, silence is the best option available. This option gives the opportunity to say something later on or maybe the impetus to say anything may eventually disappear, especially if the media and the public lose interest in the “story.”
7. Simply avoid the people who may ask the questions you do not want to answer. Some US presidents, for example, have been known to carefully dictate who attends their news conferences or even what questions reporters and visitors can ask. Celebrities, on the other hand, often hire spokespersons to field questions. It is much easier for them to say “I don’t have an answer for that” than it would be for the celebrity-one way to protect these people from media exposure.
8. Give a mumbo-jumbo, rambling, impossible-to-decipher response. Using nonsensical double-talk is very popular with government officials-and why not? It is difficult to argue with something that makes very little sense or which leaves people scratching their heads (rather than trying to think of an intelligent response). The former Soviet Union was a master at this game but the US has always followed closely behind, dishonesty having always been an integral part of American politics-something that does not seem to be getting any better with each successive administration, including Obama’s.
9. Use legal “crutches.” One such possibility is “My attorney has advised me not to comment on this”; another is “On the possibility that what I say may incriminate me in some way, I respectfully decline the opportunity to say anything”; and yet another popular one is “Since the investigation is still on-going and very much open, I am not at liberty to make any comments or answer any questions.” Unfortunately, American law provides a number of legal “hedges” behind which one can relatively safely hide-at least from the media and the public.
10. Appeal to people’s sense of loyalty, patriotism, and responsibility, rather than answering any questions or directly confronting the issue at hand. Former president George W. Bush, for example, did this repeatedly and successfully during his administration. Rather than giving an explanation as to why he never developed a comprehensive domestic national policy, Bush repeatedly contended that the country was too busy dealing with the so-called “war on terror” (the main victim of which has been the US Constitution) to commit any serious amount of resources to the domestic needs of the country-one of the reasons many experts now agree that Bush was one of the main components directly responsible for the collapse of the US economy.