Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Bullshit Meter

What should you do when the "Bullshit Meter" goes off in your mind?

You meet someone at a dinner party, or you listen to a speaker / guru at a conference, and everyone around you is deeply enamored with every word that comes out of the person's mouth, but you get that gut feeling that the person is a fraud. How should you react?

Do you tell others how you feel? Or just politely smile and listen, excusing yourself before the love-fest gets out of control?

Worthy of some time to ponder. I am not sure of the correct answer. After all, it is just a gut feeling, I am not sure that this gives you the right to speak against someone or try to undermine them. Maybe they are legit? To be critical would make you look bad if the other person has the integrity you missed.

Yet on the other hand, if you are correct and the person is nasty, shouldn't you warn others?

You input is welcome.

Have A Great Day.



JF said...

My "BS" meter is always on but is usually most sensitive in the morning while I am gearing up for the day, and not in the afternoon or evening when I am more tired. Problem is that some "BS" is packaged better than others.

Down here in San Antonio, one of my friends described it "there are alot of dust kickers in town, and not alot of hole diggers, so be a hole digger."

MiGrant said...

It depends. (How's that for a useless answer?) Who's the speaker and what are the relationships between him/her, the other listeners, and yourself? What are the potential short-term and long-term consequences of trusting or not-trusting the speaker, for the individuals and for the relationships?

Matt Genovese said...

The adage still holds true: If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything.

Larry said...

MiGrant is right, there are numerous factors to consider. I think you can call them out kindly by asking questions without overtly accusing them of anything. If they're BSing, enough questions will often reveal inconsistencies, lead to stammered answers, or they won't directly answer the question. That gives listeners plenty of clues that the speaker might be full of it.

Leslie Morris said...

I think this falls into the category of "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all."

Kristi Collier said...

I personally like to hear the BS'ers of the world talk. I'm dealing with a competitor who is full of it, reaching out to my customers (including my husband?!). They not only see it but they smell it - and hmmm, if I called him on it he'd only be the wiser, and maybe change his pitch, yes? Makes me work harder, smarter and overall improve my product and customer service. TGIF!

James T. Parsons said...

One man's junk, is another man's treasure. Humility would suggest that one might be slow to judgment in assessing value for other buyers.

I might suggest withholding judgment until you have a lot of background information, since someone could come across poorly in style, but have a lot of substance behind them. The latter takes time to assess, and for former is often judged only superficially.

I think the idea of asking fair and open ended questions and seeing how they respond is a good idea, while having an open mind, and maybe still withhold judgment. Most rash decisions are often poorly drawn, and you wouldn't want to leap too quick ... and not just find out you are wrong, but have others see you were too rash.

You could always ask your friends afterwards, "what did you think of his comments?" and open a fair dialogue after the fact when the subject is not present. Maybe you were missing something, or maybe you can made some fair points.

Time tends to be a good judge of value, since it tends to hold up over that time. Just think CDO's. What were people thinking?

R. D. Childers said...

Innocent until proven guilty. I keep my attitude in check for starters. My tone of voice reflects ignorance and humility at this point. I ask some one to explain what they mean for the things that do not make sense. If they fall apart or push back I do not dig any deeper if there is no reason to but there are often times when I discovered something new so I am open to the possibility of my knowledge growing. My background as a manufacturing engineer has shown me that I am ignorant when I sense something is wrong. Sensing is not knowing. I let the emotions drive me toward finding the truth. Dealing with large numbers of parts, people and numerous failure modes has shown me how what initially looks like a conspiracy turns out to be nothing more than incompetence, ignorance, outside factors, disconnects, misinformation…… The stars just happened to align. The more stars you see in the sky the more of them you can see are aligned.

No, you do not have the right to falsely accuse. But you do have the inalienable right to pursue the truth. It could be your own understanding or the speakers communication skills causing the problem. Success in finding the truth depends a lot on focus. Step one in the Scientific method of problem solving is define the problem. I would suggest “what is the truth” as the problem. If you’re overly concerned about calling the person out and it is because you’re not certain of the truth then find the truth. It is real easy to undermine someone when you know the truth and much more effective. The truth is much more valuable to obtain. Focus on what has value. Regardless of whether the truth is yes or no you will have gained value. If you decide on one or the other prematurely then you may be loosing the value of knowing the other and doing harm in the process.

Calling the person out would be akin to publishing with out knowing. It is not necessary. If it feels necessary to get to the publish results phase then you need to get through the problem definition phase quickly. That means you should ask questions that help define the truth. If you’re focused on the truth and not on doing harm, you will stay on the right path. If you learn something new then do not forget to say thank you. It is like following up after any other engagement. If you do not trust them then learn the truth. Trust…truth….. they are intertwined. Not my site. Not my site. Not my site.

Michael Benidt said...

I tip my hat to Wall Street Journal columnist Penelope Trunk - who wrote this take-down of the 4-Hour Work Week guy, Tim Ferriss. She was ambivalent at first about speaking "truth to power," but overcame her reservations and just let it fly in this wonderfully hilarious bit of personal journalism -

Hats off to Penelope - and thanks to you for admitting what we all sometimes wonder. Should we really point out that most of these emperors have no clothes?