When telling is a dead giveaway: someone’s trying too hard

There’s a word for it. It’s called ‘a tell’.  It’s when a speaker ‘tells’ the audience about something without saying anything. There are congruent tells, where the subtle message reinforces the real one, like smiling sincerely and saying ‘I’m really happy to be here’; and such congruence makes for a powerful message. Then there’s the incongruent tell which (you won’t be surprised to hear) does the opposite and makes for some exquisitely awful moments.

I think that such moments funny, mostly, because the harder someone tries to convince you of something, the more often they achieve the opposite result.  Also there’s irony because a tell is an unconscious thing, the only person not aware of what they’ve done is the person doing it. (It’s a tough thing to admit , but don’t we all do it occasionally? Eeeeek).

For me there’s a number of phrases that are more often than not, a sign of an incongruent ‘tell’. Here they are-

1. This is all about you…. Often as the speaker points to himself like Simon Cowell, meaning it’s always’ all about me…

2. I have your best interests at heart… Accompanied by a psychotic smile and glacial eye contact- start looking for the door.  Ruuuun!

3. Trust me… – Obvious question- Why would anyone ask that of anyone else?

4. Maybe I’m a terrible person but… Translation- Obviously they are, just agree and walk away.

5. My primary concern is about making this right for you… Request- Well stop stabbing me in the back then

6. Our most important asset is our people… Translation- And we’re selling as many of them as we can because we can’t melt them down for candles.

Why would a speaker say any of these things unless he was nervous about displaying the truth? Watch out for these phrases and see if you think the person really means what they’re saying or is simply saying something that she thinks we want to hear.  Tells are always telling.

Jim Harvey

Jim Harvey

Managing Director at The Message Business
Jim is the MD of The Message Business, a company which helps FTSE 100 companies to sell themselves, and their products better. Speech writer, Prezi trainer and designer, coach and consultant, Jim also finds time to be a proud father and husband.
Jim Harvey
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


To Top