Your Lying Boss

There’s a media trainer out there who tells a story about training a musician.

Every time the musician said, “We have a new album coming out on Tuesday,” the trainer would say, “Who’s ‘we?’ Do you think the audience can go to the record store and ask for the new record by ‘We?’ Say the name of your group so people can find your record!”

It’s a reasonable point. Many media trainers have long argued that spokespersons should replace personal pronouns, primarily “I’” and “we,” with their company’s name.

I disagree with that advice, and have always thought a few “I’s” and “we’s” were okay. A spokesperson who says something like, “Well, Starbucks Coffee believes that…” too many times risks sounding forced and inauthentic. And since that spokesperson will be identified by the reporter as a Starbucks representative anyway, it may be unnecessary.

A new Stanford University study called “Detecting Deceptive Discussions in Conference Calls” strengthens my position. According to The Huffington Post’s review of the study:

“Using phrases like “the team” and “the company” over “I” and “we” is one of a number of linguistic cues that an executive could be lying … executives who later revised their firm’s financial statements displayed distinct styles of speech in analyst calls, including language that ‘disassociates themselves from their subject matter.’”

Am I suggesting you should never say your company’s name or use phrases such as “our team” since they could be seen as an attempt to disassociate yourself from your firm’s behavior? No. It’s okay to keep those words in your media repertoire.

But do feel free to sprinkle in a few “I’s” or “we’s” along the way, and ignore any advice that tells you to kill personal pronouns altogether during media interviews.