Watch Out For ‘Paltering’ Techniques To Spot A Lie Hidden With The Truth

Watch Out For ‘Paltering’ Techniques To Spot A Lie Hidden With The Truth

Figuring out when someone’s being honest can be exhausting. To stay on your toes, watch for a technique called “paltering” that uses true statements to distort your perceptions. Photo by Susana Fernandez.

As business site Harvard Business Review explains, paltering occurs when a person — like a politician or a salesman — will feed you true statements, but either leave out key context, or simply misinterpret the information for you. Since the individual claims are true, you might assume that the conclusion they come to is true, even if it’s wrong:

There’s a word for this way of using truthful facts to deceive: “paltering.” It is not unique to politics. In our recent work, Todd Rogers and Richard Zeckhauser of the Harvard Kennedy School, Maurice Schweitzer of Wharton, Mike Norton of Harvard Business School, and I studied the use of paltering in negotiations. Negotiators often have access to unique information, and they depend on one another’s claims about that information. Thus, negotiators can often exploit their counterparts by using deception to gain an advantage.

For example, say you’re out buying a TV and a salesman tells you that one really expensive TV comes with 4K and HDR, which makes it a good long-term purchase. None of those statements are technically inaccurate. The TV does have those features and they do make the TV relatively future-proof. However, the salesman leaves out that they have another TV on the next aisle with those exact same features for half the price. Nothing the salesman said was a lie, and you can even verify those claims, but they used that trust to sell you on a broader picture — namely that you have to spend a lot of money to get a good TV — that wasn’t really true.

There’s a Word for Using Truthful Facts to Deceive: Paltering [HBR]


  • All the dictionaries I can find define paltering as just another word for lying or deception.
    None of them use the more exclusive concept advocated in that article.

    • Ive found something similar to the article at a few places,

      I’m used to a term called peppering the truth. This entails the same concept as the article.

      You also have reductio ad absurdum as another form of deception.

      There are so many ways that people deceive, it’s a lot of work to build a list of terms just to define them all. Or as Eric mentioned, the mental effort just to keep an eye on the pitch being given.

      The best way to identify paltering and other techniques is to look from other angles. Take a step back. Look for the seller’s angle. The seller often sells an idea (rather than a product).

      Whether it be to sell you an expensive product or to drive prejudice, the techniques will be the same. I occasionally walk away from a deal if I can’t see the seller’s angle. When it comes to prejudice (eg. Stereotyping), it’s easy to pick. A sales pitch for a product or service is much harder to spot sometimes. “Yeah, this TV is much cheaper and just as good” can mean “I’m trying to help” or “the commission is higher on this model”.

      • 1: Neither of those definitions excludes lying, which is the whole point of the article “using truthful facts to deceive”.

        2: Reductio Ad Absurdum is a valid form of logical argumentation, I’m astonished that you define it as an attempt to deceive.

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