Healthy Leaders


Ambiguous Recommendations

Alan SmithAlan Smith

Robert Thornton, a professor of economics at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, was, like many teachers, frustrated about having to write letters of recommendation for people with dubious qualifications, so he put together an arsenal of statements that can be read two ways.  He calls his collection the “Lexicon of Inconspicuously Ambiguous Recommendations”, or LIAR, for short.

Thornton explains that LIAR may be used to offer a negative opinion of the personal qualities, work habits or motivation of the candidate while allowing the candidate to believe that it is high praise.

Some examples from LIAR:

* To describe a person who is extremely lazy:  “In my opinion, you will be very fortunate to get this person to work for you.”

* To describe a person who is totally inept:  “I most enthusiastically recommend this candidate with no qualifications whatsoever.”

* To describe an ex-employee who had problems getting along with fellow workers:  “I am pleased to say that this candidate is a former colleague of mine.”

* To describe a candidate who is so unproductive that the job would be better left unfilled:  “I can assure you that no person would be better for the job.”

* To describe a job applicant who is not worth further consideration:  “I would urge you to waste no time in making this candidate an offer of employment.”

* To describe a person with lackluster credentials:  “All in all, I cannot say enough good things about this candidate or recommend him too highly.”

Robert Thornton is right, isn’t he?  We don’t like to hurt people’s feelings, but we don’t want to be totally dishonest either, so we are excited to find a way to be ambiguous.  We call it ambiguity, speaking a half-truth, using mental reservation, twisting the truth a bit, being ambivalent.  Perhaps at least Thornton was more honest when he called his collection “LIAR”.

It may be that no Christian characteristic has suffered more in the workplace than honesty.  It shouldn’t be that way.  Jesus wants His people to be known as a people of truth.  It is important that those around us can trust what we say without wondering whether we really mean it or not.

Therefore, putting away lying, each one speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25)

Have a great day (and I say that in all truth)!

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Alan Smith