Why don’t people believe you are telling the truth?

Posted by  Mark Schenk —July 14, 2015
Filed in Business storytelling

Michael Leunig is an Australian cartoonist. He is a friendly, approachable and intelligent man well known for his humour and whimsy. He has been publishing his cartoons since the 1970’s. He is well-known for lovable characters such as Mr Curly and for the duck that inspired part of the opening ceremony for the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. He also is something of an activist and his cartoons sometimes address controversial political issues.

During a television interview in 2006 Leunig was asked, “Do you receive death threats?” Leunig responded tentatively, “…yes… I do.”

During our workshops we showed that clip and paused it after Leunig’s answer, asking the audience if they believed him. Leunig was telling the truth, but less than 50% of the audience members believed he received death threats.


Immediately after Leunig’s answer, the TV show inserted a ‘freeze-frame’, and the interviewer’s voiceover said, “the truth of Leunig’s answer was demonstrated immediately after the interview. He turned on his mobile phone and had a voicemail threatening the life of his wife and family.”

We asked the audience members whether they now believed if Leunig received death threats.

100% of the audience members answered ‘yes’.

Assertions don’t have credibility

The lesson here is that if you assert something as a fact – even if it is a fact – less than half of the people listening will believe you.

Many of us fall into a trap here: when we suspect people aren’t believing us we assert the fact even more strongly. In turn, this causes even more people to disbelieve you.

You might recognise this from politics: a politician under pressure asserts that they will never resign. So you might give them the benefit of the doubt. Then they assert again they will never resign and you’re starting to doubt them. By the time they state it a third time, you’re convinced they will resign. Assertions just don’t have credibility.

Stories lend credibility to your argument

However, if you provide a single concrete example demonstrating your fact, almost everybody will believe you.

Will your strategy or change initiative have more chance of success if people believe it, and you? If your answer is yes, stories can help. Stories, in the form of specific examples, lend credibility to your argument – much more credibility than can be obtained by facts or assertions alone.

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:

2 Responses to “Why don’t people believe you are telling the truth?”

  1. Jim Signorelli Says:

    Great article Mark!
    Too often we fall into the trap of thinking that we our word is good enough. There’s an implied “trust me” in assertions without the addition of a story as back up.

  2. Why people may not believe you are telling the ... Says:

    […] If you assert something as a fact less than half of the people listening will believe you. How do you make sure people know you are telling the truth?  […]

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