Lesson 2.11

Preventing Self- and Group-Deception

Dive into this topic by watching the video, followed by key concepts below:


Key Concepts:


Sometimes productive cognitive friction and debate gets derailed because we lie—to ourselves or others.

  • Exaggerations, leaving out information that could change people’s conclusions, and other misleading behavior is at obvious odds with good teamwork.

  • But preventing deception is tricky, because spotting it is tricky.

There are a few ways to maximize your chances of not getting deceived in the course of a good debate:

  • Fact checking: whenever someone makes an assertion of fact, politely ask for the data or proof. Just make it a habit.

  • When someone feeds you B.S., ask them to distinguish facts from stories, like we learned in the earlier exercise. Literally you can say, “Can you separate out for me what are the objective observations, and what are your conclusions or opinions?” (See Lesson 2.4.)

  • When you suspect someone is being really deceptive, it’s helpful to ask them questions to get them to revise their statements, rather than starting by just accusing them of deception. E.g. “Is that 100% true?” or “On a scale of 1 to 10, how certain are you that that’s accurate?” and then “What about when we consider [X]?” This can often get people to correct themselves.

  • Sometimes, though, you’ll want to call out the deception, using…

The Deception-Busting Script

A script like this can help when you notice someone has said something deceptive during discourse or debate:

  1. (Stop them.) “Let me stop you right there for a second.”

  2. (Identify the deception in a way that isn’t threatening.) “You just said [x]. However, if I’m not mistaken, I believe that’s inaccurate.”

  3. (Clarify the real fact and its source.) “The truth, according to [source], is [state it accurately].”

  4. (Give them the chance to explain themselves or recover.) “Given that information, can we back up to where we were?”

It’s really hard to pull this off without seeming like a jerk. And it’s also hard to take being called out like this without your ego smarting a little bit.

So if the person allows you to get through this script without jumping in, good on them.

But people will sometimes respond by attacking the facts or their source, using another deception like claiming that the facts are just an opinion—or resorting to dodging, etc.

In some cases, they’ll combat being called out with an outright lie.

This is where the role of a good debate referee, a neutral party to the conversation, can be especially helpful to include. In any case, the best you can do is keep your cool, speak from a place of objectivity.

And remember: if you find yourself in a debate with someone who’s unwilling to explore the mountain with you—it’s totally okay to just walk away.

Self-Deception Prevention: Keep A Lie Journal

One of the best ways to curb self-deception—the lies we tell ourselves—is to keep a daily journal, and to include a record of your white lies in it. It’s more psychologically difficult to be dishonest with yourself about what’s happening in your life and work when you write it down on paper. That doesn’t mean you can’t lie to your journal, but a journal is a good place to unwind your own B.S.

So try this exercise: For one month, keep a Lie Journal, an ongoing list of all your white lies—even the tiny ones that don’t seem to matter. You can just add this to your regular journal entries, or keep a running list on your phone. There’s no right or wrong format. Just write down every deception you make as you catch it. Here’s an example from my own lie journal from a while back:

You’ll be surprised how quickly this little exercise helps you change the way you speak, cuts down your small fibs, and helps you feel more congruent and confident in your interactions. It also can help you be more attuned to white lies in general with others.