In 1998, President Bill Clinton was impeached but not convicted based on statements he made regarding his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

In an interview with Jim Lehrer on “NewsHour”, the following exchange occurred:

Jim Lehrer: “No improper relationship”—define what you mean by that.

President Bill Clinton: “Well, I think you know what it means. It means that there is not a sexual relationship, an improper sexual relationship, or any other kind of improper relationship.”

 Jim Lehrer: “You had no sexual relationship with this young woman?”

 President Bill Clinton: “There is not a sexual relationship— that is accurate.”

— “NewsHour” With Jim Lehrer, January 21, 1998

( (Id. at 456.) (“Harvard Study”)

This Harvard study then notes:

Referring to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, U.S. President Bill Clinton claimed, “there is not a sexual relationship.” The Starr Commission later discovered that there “had been” a sexual relationship, but that it had ended months before Clinton’s interview with Jim Lehrer. During the interview, Clinton made a claim that was technically true by using the present tense word “is,” but his statement was intended to mislead: Jim Lehrer and many viewers inferred from Clinton’s response that he had not had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. We categorize Clinton’s claim as paltering: the active use of truthful statements to create a false impression. We distinguish paltering from both lying by omission and lying by commission …. (Id. at 456.)


In short, “paltering” is “…the active use of truthful statements to influence a target’s beliefs by giving a false or distorted impression.” ( (“Forbes”)

What one is saying is “technically” true but also very misleading, thereby giving a false impression to the listener. This paltering can be done either in response to a direct question or unprompted. The study found that those who used paltering in response to a direct question to be more unethical that those who used it unprompted. (Harvard study at 457.)

In either case, the Harvard Study concluded that while paltering may have allowed its user to gain value, the deception also led to impasse and once discovered, reputational harm similar to those of lying by commission. (Id. at 457, and 465.) Yet, those who engage in such deception do so out of self-justification and to preserve their moral self-image. (Id.)  They perceive their behavior to be moral in contrast to the counterpart who views it as immoral and dishonest and as unethical as lying by commission. (Id. at 467.)

While several articles were written on this topic in 2016, I only just discovered this word while reading a book on negotiation. According to the Harvard Study published in 2016, paltering is common in negotiations: the participants in a study much preferred to mislead by paltering (i.e., stating “half-truths”) than to lie by making a positive but misleading statement (i.e., by commission.  Further, they believed it to be ethical to use paltering or at least more ethical than lying by commission. (Id. at 461.)

In a second experiment, involving face-to-face negotiations, the Harvard study found that while negotiators preferred to use paltering over lying by commission,

“…when the deceptions are discovered, negotiators experience the same reputational cost from paltering as they do from lying by commission.” (Id. at 463.) … “[P]altering is a risky strategy for negotiators if the truth is likely to become known and where reputation is important. Like lying by commission, paltering enabled individuals to claim value in the short term. However, when the full truth was disclosed, paltering incurred significant reputation damage….” (Id. at 465)

Once your counterpart discovers your half-truth (aka paltering), it will definitely impact your reputation both in the present negotiation and in any future negotiations. Your counterpart will no longer trust you in any future dealings. In fact, he/she may not even want to deal with you at all. The Harvard study found that this negative reaction was the same for paltering as for lying by commission. (Id. at 466.). Both types of deceiving individuals suffered the same low ethical standing in the eyes of their counterparts (Id.)

The takeaway is obvious: just as one should not lie by omission or by commission, one should not palter, as well! That is, “…[d]uring negotiations, beware of bending the truth.” (Forbes at 6.)

… Just something to think about.




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