Butler-Lies: Lie is a dish best served tepid

It is not hard to imagine that we all “lie” to get out of trouble. And these lies are not limited to getting out of trouble, often they extend to those situations where we have to “deal with people”. Socially savvy communication skills are sprinkled with these lies and deceptions that permit us evade undesirable social encounters or facilitate a quick exit from them.

For example, if someone at work says, “why don’t you join us for lunch?” and you already have plans with another colleague that you don’t wish to divulge about, you may quickly say, “I can’t, I have a dentist’s appointment.”

Jeff Hancock and his colleagues at the Department of Communication at Cornell University who study online interactions proclaim these strategies to let-oneself-off-the-social hook as “butler-Lies”. They illustrate this by making a reference to the book written by Roberts in 1827 called The House Servant’s Directory, which describes the method in which a butler must announce the caller such that it gives the master or mistress a chance to decline the encounter.

“…If not, tell them your mistress, master or whoever they wish to see, are engaged, &c. in a polite and civil manner”

Our developing prefrontal cortex acts as a master and our communication ability serves as our hired hand or the “butler” promoting our social navigation. The crux of the matter is, we all wish to preserve our portrayal of self as a decent social being. In order to successfully avoid social interactions we have to generate carefully drafted lies that can “sell”. In my opinion, this process requires social and cognitive proficiency and the ability to craft the butler-lie.  If an individual dishes out a plain-old-lie without any communication layers or sophistication of the “butler-lies” then  he runs a risk of being perceived as mean, snobbish, contemptuous or patronizing.  On the other hand, if an individual does not let-go a “butler-lie” in spite of the working knowledge of someone’s intentionality behind lying then he also runs a risk of being perceived as socially immature or petty or unsophisticated.

When you “fire” the Butler:

To sustain relationships, develop intimacy and expand the realm of social communication, one must have a vast repertoire of butler lies handy. It does not limit to phrases that one must use in order to excuse oneself out of a unwanted social situation but the individual must also have the ability to assess how others will “take” the butler-lies.

Several neurological disorders including concussion, TBI, Asperger’s or ADHD can and do affect the “filtering” process. The underlying cognitive impairment can impact an individual’s awareness of the need for filtering and how others perceive their awkward communicative interactions. A clear sign of such social ineptness is their communication void of appropriately used butler-lies, which may inevitably hurt others’ feelings. Conversation with butler-lies and other conversational tricks leads to playfulness that gives everyone the satisfaction while maintaining a certain level of refinement in communication. Conversations void of such communication layering is like going to a theatre performance “naked”.

I invite you to leave a comment and join me in sharing ideas. If you would you like to know more about my practice, visit my website at www.cerebralmatters.com. For any further communication, leave me a note here or contact me at Sucheta@cerebralmatters.com.

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