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The truth is the truth is the truth.  And, yet there are times when the believability of the truth is determined by factors other than the content of the message.

Think of a time when you told the truth but weren’t believed, when your credibility was suspect, when, try as you might, you just weren’t convincing enough.  It wasn’t because you were telling an untruth.  It was because there was something missing in the way you delivered your message.  What was it that was missing?

There are six missing pieces on how to make the truth more believable:

  • trust,
  • understatement,
  • specificity,
  • evidence,
  • conciseness,
  • pacing existence.

Let’s develop each of these.

The Truth

The fastest and most sure way to be believed is to be trustworthy.  One becomes trustworthy when they always tell the truth.  Make it a policy to “get to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” as quickly as you can. Only agree to do the things you know you’re going to do.  If you know you can’t get to an appointment at the time you set it, then tell the truth up front rather than make up an excuse after the fact. Act as though your “word” means exactly what you say.  The surest way to be believed is to make sure that you’re known for telling only the truth


Understatement makes more sense when it’s compared to it’s opposite.  Several years ago I was asked for advice by a well-known speaker who wanted to know what he could do to be more effective.  One of my suggestions was that he stop exaggerating.  At that time he was well known for “embellishing the facts”  in order to make his message more engaging and believable.

My point was, and is, you only have to exaggerate once before people begin questioning the accuracy of your statements.  Even if you’re saying something “half in jest” you may be creating doubt with a statement such as, “I’ve told you a MILLION times.”  Everyone knows it hasn’t been a million times.  They also, no doubt, understand that you’re just trying to make your point.  But the fact of the matter is…you lied!

The unasked question then is, “When and where else do you exaggerate that may not be as noticeable…but is just as equally untrue?”  or a more basic, “When can I trust him or her?”

The flip-side of exaggeration is understatement. The definition of understatement is to state that something is less than it really is.  On the surface this doesn’t sound too promising.  But, in execution, understatement really creates a foundation for credibility.  The pattern for generating an understatement is to first state what your product, service, concept, or idea WON’T do.  Then state what it WILL do.

As an example, you might say, “This policy won’t solve all of your challenges, but what it will do is provide you with the kind of coverage that you need right now.”

Or, “Moving in this direction isn’t going to get us all the way to where we want to be, but at least it allows us to begin making the kinds of shifts in the company we need to make.”

Or, “I know this isn’t exactly what you want, but it’s better than what you had before.”

Understatement won’t solve all of your credibility challenges but it will definitely assist you to be much more believable.


The third practice that makes the truth more believable is specificity.  Specificity is simply being exact.  As examples, “61.93%“ is more believable than “65%.”  “There are six steps we can take.” is more believable than “There are several things we can do.”

“We’ve received 17 complaint calls in the past 2 hours” is more believable than “Everyone is complaining!”

If you know the exact number right down to the second decimal place…then you’re probably going to be looked upon as someone who has earned the right to be considered a credible source of information.


Which leads us to the fourth method, evidence!  Evidence can come in many forms.  It’s important to note that each person may have a different “perceived value” for a particular type of evidence.

Let’s develop some of the different forms of evidence.

  1. Statistics:  a quantitative fact or number.
  2. Facts: anything that can be verified as being true.
  3. Truisms: something someone would accept as being true.  As an example, I was just sitting here thinking about you.  The other person can’t prove it but it is something they would probably accept as being true.
  4. Testimonials: having a third part make a statement of support.
  5. Examples: a typical instance, person, or thing that may be taken as an illustration of a certain quality.
  6. Demonstrations: actually showing someone how something works.


The fifth method to increase your believability is conciseness.  I read a research report that indicated that the person who feels “least in authority” uses more filler words.  Filler words are words and phrases such as, “and,” “so,” “but,” “you know,”  and “ah.”

To expand on this concept, the person who is least sure of their message will tend to use more words to explain their point.  As an example, when you go to a Medical Doctor, they don’t say, “Well, ah, you know.  I want you to, kind of, take a couple of these, you know, pills…”  What they say is something like, “I’m going to write you a prescription.  I’d like you to take three of these with every meal until they’re gone.  If you have any on-going symptoms, give me a call.”  Clear, direct, concise!

If that same Doctor got pulled over by a Police Officer for speeding we might very well hear him or her say, “Well, you know, Officer, like, it isn’t that easy to, you know, see that sign back there.”  If it takes too many words to say what you’re trying to say then you probably don’t understand what you’re trying to say.

Who ever is least in authority will tend to put more filler words in their message.  My experience is that people who are not certain tend to explain and then re-explain their opinions and answers. So, say what you need to say…concisely.

Pacing Existence

The sixth method for making the truth more believable is “pacing existence.”  You may be asking yourself, “What in the world is “pacing existence?”  And, you’d be perfectly justified to feel curious or even a little confused if you’ve never before heard of the concept or experienced it’s subtle but powerful effect on communications.

Pacing existence is describing an other’s world in such a way they clearly understand that you understand them. The description of what you may be thinking or feeling about pacing existence in the previous paragraph is a small example.

You may be asking yourself, “How do you do that?”

You “pace existence” by mentally putting yourself in the other person’s place and answering the question, “What would I be thinking and feeling if I were in this situation?” You can begin by simply observing your audience.  Are they excited or do they look bored?  Are they involved or are they uninvolved?  If I were sitting the way they’re sitting and observing what they’re observing and doing what they’re doing…how would I be feeling?

In October, 2004 I was the 7th speaker on the second day of a three-day, financial services conference.  Since both of the previous speakers used PowerPoint Presentations I knew the audience was probably completely “zoned out.”  (I wrote the article, PowerPoint Poison, How PowerPoint presentations destroy your message and what to do about it.)  The audience was quiet, except for the ones who were talking to each other.  Some people were reading. Many people stood up and moved to the walls.  Some left the room.  There were 13 people in the hallway.

When I was introduced I received respectable, but not outstanding, applause.  After saying, Good Afternoon.” my next comment was, “Would you mind if not make this a Power Point presentation?”  The audience laughed AND applauded.

It only took one comment to send a message that I understood where they were as an audience after a day and a half of presentations.  Within a matter of minutes the participants were involved and attentive.  People will listen to you when they believe you are worth listening to.

These are the six missing pieces on how to make the truth more believable; tell the truth, understatement, specificity, evidence, conciseness, and pacing existence.  They may not always make everyone trust you, but by using these effectively they will help you to be more credible and believable.

“Who ever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with the important matters.”  Albert Einstein

© 2003, Carter Institute, Inc.  all rights reserved.

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