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The Art of Deceptive Communication

Updated on March 19, 2012

Did you know that one-third of our communication is deceptive?

Don't believe me? Well, think about it. Last time someone asked you if "these jeans make me look fat?," did you tell them the full-out truth? When someone with a clipboard started to approach you outside the coffee shop and you quickly pretending to be busy texting or calling someone?When a coworker was asking if you'd ever seen that episode of How I Met Your Mother, and you hadn't, but you nodded anyway?

Deception is a part of life - and oftentimes, we don't deceive others in order to hurt them, we deceive them as a protective mechanism, or to make social interactions easier. It can be used for our own self-benefit (Like mild exaggeration on a resume,) as well as for the benefit of others (Don't worry about that zit - you can't even see it unless you point it out!)


In order to qualify as deception, there are a few qualifications. The person deceiving another must know that the information they are telling is false. For example - if the "deceiver" tells another person that the conference meeting is on Monday, but it's actually on a Tuesday, it does not qualify as deception because the "deceiver" honestly believes the meeting is on Monday.

Secondly, the person deceiving must be transmitting the false information on purpose, and they must be attempting to make the reciever believe the information.

Deception does not have to be successful, but in our society, receivers unconsciously work together with deceivers to accept the deceptive communication.

A successful deceiver is someone who is very aware of their own behavior and knows what the truth looks like. They are often very comfortable in thinking on their feet and know how to create a believable message within a certain audience. Some liars are not necessarily adept at deception, but are better at recognizing and deferring suspicion.

Detecting deception is difficult because we have a truth bias. We assume that the information we are receiving is true. We also have a reluctance to accuse someone without knowing for sure that deception is occurring. Also - humans are notoriously bad at recognizing the signs of lying.

Many people think that a person who is lying will be unable to look you in the eyes when they are deceiving you. This is incorrect - in fact, people who are very skilled in deception make a point to look you directly in the eyes to make their lies seem sincere. We often want to believe people in deceptive situations because we want to preserve a good relationship, so we often allow them to perpetuate lies without "catching them" in the act.


Falsification is communicating completely false information as if it were true. This type of deception takes a greater amount of effort because you have to create a fictional truth.

There is a high intensity of arousal at creating a big lie like this, but it is very difficult to sustain because no part of the story is the truth. The best way to catch someone who is falsifying information is to let it go at the time, and then bring it up later and ask questions. Chances are, you'll trip up the deceiver in a detail that they have forgotten.

A great example of falsifying information is from Meet the Parents. Jack Byrnes, the father-in-law of Ben Stiller's character, Greg, has an elaborate falsified cover as a florist. In reality, he is a CIA agent - but throughout much of the movie he has to maintain his cover by creating multiple lies about his profession as a florist.


Omissive deception occurs when you leave out a significant portion of a story in order to create a false impression. Nothing you say is a direct lie - but you purposefully leave out an important part of the story.

If you're asking your parents for permission to go to a party, and they ask who is coming with you - you might list off a bunch of friends - "Katie, Jessica, Andrea..." and specifically leave out the name of someone you know your parents don't approve of. You haven't told a lie, but you omitted a significant portion of information.


Exaggeration is the overstatement of something that is true in principle. We're all probably guilty of doing this - most commonly on things such as resumes.

"Yes - I'm fluent in German!" (But you've only taken a German 101 course in college...)
"I am great at waterskiing." (Well - okay, you've only tried it once, but you didn't wipe out more than two or three times!)
"I have extensive experience in event planning." (Yeah - you planned your son's sixth birthday party and one office brunch...)


Finally, equivocation is deception involving ambiguous statements to give a false impression about someone or something.

This is commonly put into practice when talking about other people in an instance where we aren't entirely sure how the other person feels. A great example of this would be if your employer were to ask you about another employee. You don't want to come straight out and say "Jim is lazy!" because that might jeopardize your job and reputation. So instead you say - "Jim is... interesting." Because this statement is very abstract, it has a flexible interpretation, and the person you are deceiving can imply your information is a variety of ways.

Deception is a natural part of our lives.

We actually find it easier to deceive strangers and to detect deception from strangers than we do in people who are close to us.

It is a survival skill that we use for our own self-benefit, the benefit of others, and as part of our daily social interaction - and approximately one-third of our communication is made up of deceptive communication (I promise - that's not a deceptive statistic!)


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    • laurathegentleman profile image

      laurathegentleman 5 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

      @Au fait - First off, I loved your comment (I'm crazy about long comments with substance!)

      How true - we as humans believe that everything is the truth, but when it comes to someone who ACTUALLY tells us the truth, we panic!

      How sad, that society encourages us to lie to ourselves. It is too true that sometimes, we lie to avoid making waves, when life would be so much simpler if we'd just suck it up and accept the truth as it is!

      Thank you SO much for the lovely feedback! :)

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      I try never to tell an out and out lie. Generally I just parse my words, and sometimes I say nothing at all allowing other people to do what so many people love to do anyway -- ASSUME and/or jump to conclusions. Assumptions are almost always wrong, but if someone's assumption will benefit me, why hurt their feelings by setting them straight?

      I prefer to not say anything rather than tell a lie, and if asked outright about something I don't want to talk about, I will say, I'd rather not talk about that right now. Unless it's someone I can't avoid answering, I will if pushed too far, come out and say it's none of your business, rather than telling a lie.

      I can tell you people do not like the truth. In fact, I think it would not be exaggerating to say most people hate the truth, even when it is fairly bland, unthreatening, and boring. People choose what they want to believe, and what 'truth' they feel comfortable with.

      If you tell most people something different than what they want to believe, they are suspicious of you. It's when you tell people things they don't want to know, don't want to deal with, and that is contrary to what they want to believe then they say things like, "Everyone lies and everyone deceives."

      It's been my experience that people lie to themselves more than anyone else. If you say something, or point out something that is antithetical to what they want to believe, you are the bad guy. Nice guys agree with them and don't make waves.

      Of course most things aren't worth the trouble of making waves. Lots of people ASSUME that silence is agreement with them, when in fact it is often avoidance of controversy.

      Very good hub! Good issue to raise. Voting you UP, useful, and interesting.

    • laurathegentleman profile image

      laurathegentleman 5 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

      Go for it, Michael.

    • cleaner3 profile image

      cleaner3 5 years ago from Pueblo, Colorado

      Do you mind if I do a poem on the manipulation of deception.? do you think that it will make a good hub?

    • laurathegentleman profile image

      laurathegentleman 5 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

      Thanks for the comment, ytsenoh! It really is something that everyone should be aware of - everyone lies and everyone deceives, but it's such a crucial part of the way our society functions!

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      Very interesting subject in a lesson of awareness. Thank you.

    • laurathegentleman profile image

      laurathegentleman 5 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

      THANK YOU, everyone, for all the lovely feedback! I loved all your comments!

      @Kathleen - I used to do the same thing! Not to purposefully harm anyone, just to cover my own butt! I definitely got caught in my own lies - then of course, you had to make up another lie to cover the first one!

      @Dana - I'm the same way. I betray my own emotions all the time, just to save face! It's definitely something I'm trying to work on...

      @joneldapat - Haha, I know I'm guilty of all four major types of deception!

      @sassydee - guilty as charged! Sometimes we do it without meaning to!

      @Rosalinem - I'm trying to do the same thing! I want to tell the truth as often as I can... It's a lot harder than I thought it would be, though!

      @Michael - I did leave out manipulation! I was focusing more on the types of deception that we do without fully realizing it, and the more "innocent" forms of deception, but manipulation is a good one!

      @lyndoman - I thought it would be a much lower statistic! But I agree, I think we're shocked by people who aren't afraid to speak the truth, even when it's hard for us to hear! I wish it weren't that way...

    • lyndoman profile image

      lyndoman 5 years ago from London

      I would have thought it was higher than a third. I think the people we are uneasy about are the ones who tell the truth. Could you imagine a politician telling the truth, people would not like it.

    • cleaner3 profile image

      cleaner3 5 years ago from Pueblo, Colorado

      Laura, geat hub, your writing on this subject is informative and spot on. You missed one part which is manipulation which in reality uses all of the prior subtopics to achive deception.

      Nice write.

    • Rosalinem profile image

      Rosalinem 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Laura you have written it very well.Sometime back I purposed to tell the truth no matter what and its has been less tiring that coming up with a lie.

    • sassydee profile image

      Delilah 5 years ago from los angeles, ca

      Voted up,interesting, and useful. What if someone is all of the above?

    • joneldapat profile image

      joneldapat 5 years ago

      hahaizt... maybe it's a normal to us liers...

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 5 years ago from Ohio

      Interesting hub... I am horrible at lying. People see right through me. Except when its about myself. Then I'm geat at it. I have a habit of telling people I'm fine or things are great when they are not. And people believe me. The only downside is when things actually aren't ok everyone expects me to be fine or to just snap out of it. Working on just being honest. Boy is that tough!

    • profile image

      Kathleen Kerswig 5 years ago

      I used to be the kind of person who communicated deceptively ALL of the time. I'd like to think I don't do that very often anymore. It was difficult to keep my statements straight. I'm learning to be diplomatic rather than deceptive. It's a process. Thanks for sharing.