Year To Success

Lesson 16: Avoid Exaggeration

Exaggerating, or taking a truth out of proportion, is one of the evils of communication. Here are some of the top reasons why people feel the need to exaggerate:

  1. they want to sound more interesting
  2. they want more sympathy from the listener
  3. they want to embellish their point and make it more convincing
  4. they want to use the power of numbers to get the point across, even if it means lying about the numbers

The fact is, exaggerating is a form of lying or “stretching the truth.” Very rarely does any good ever come from lying.

Here are some forms of exaggeration that you should avoid.

Obvious Exaggeration. This is where the listener immediately knows the speaker is exaggerating because the statement is impossible. Example, “There’s like a million people downstairs waiting for you.” This is a somewhat childish statement that does not give the listener a true idea of the actual number and often leads to the follow-up question, “How many...really?”

Absolute Exaggeration. This is where the speaker uses words such as “all,” “everybody” or “always.” These statements are often made out of desperation or anger and do not give the listener a true sense of the situation. For example, “Everybody is upset about today’s meeting.” The chances are that all 68 staff members are not upset; just some are. What the speaker is doing is making assumptions based on a few samples, or in many cases, her own opinion.

Indirect Exaggeration. This is where the speaker will answer a question or make a statement in an attempt to lean the listener to an idea or way of thinking. For example, if a husband and wife are talking about going out or staying in for the evening and the wife says, “Well, it is almost six o’clock so we will have to wait anywhere we go.” This indirectly tells the husband that she does not want to go out. Why? For one thing, the wife is using absolute exaggeration by stating there will be a wait “anywhere.” In addition, the time is actually 5:35, not quite “almost six o’clock.” People tend to “bend time” on their side when they want to make a statement indirectly or prove a point.

One area where exaggeration is appropriate is in comedy. Comedians, writers, and others who are looking to use humor, find exaggeration a useful tool. If you do use exaggeration for this reason, just be sure it is obvious to your audience and not deceptive.

Avoiding exaggerating will help keep your statements honest, and people will respect you more for it. In addition, it is better communication to say what you mean and avoid follow-up questions. Knowing when others are exaggerating and seeing through their statements to the real meaning will also help you to be a better communicator.