Friday, 20 August 2010

Lying executives

Via the ace-a-tronic, I came across this WSJ article summarising some academic analysis of analyst calls and the like to see if they could spot deceitful chief execs (they looked at companies that subsequently restated earnings). Interestingly part of the analysis is use of language:
Executives who later had to revise their books displayed some very consistent clues.

For one, they seldom referred to themselves or their firms in the first person; “I” and “we” were replaced by terms like “the team” and “the company.” Deceitful executives passed up humdrum adjectives like “solid” and “respectable” in favor of gushing words like “fantastic,” and (not surprisingly) they seldom mentioned shareholder value.

They also tended buttress their points with references to general knowledge with phrases like “you know” and to make short statements with little hesitatation, presumably because they had carefully scripted the untruths in advance and had no interest in lingering on them.

I would need to go back and check on the actual research, but the first bit of this looks rather familiar in terms of explanatory styles. If you know something has gone wrong (which I assume is the implication here) someone with a certain explanatory style might try and frame it as being the result of external factors, rather than personal failings, hence the lack of reference to the first person.

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