Don’t Be an Accidental Liar!

Have you heard that baby carrots are made from deformed full size carrots that have been soaked in chlorine?  That white film you see after they have been stored in the fridge a few days is the chlorine coming to the surface.

Or, maybe you have heard some other disturbing story forwarded by a friend.  Do you ever check the story out?  Most of them are “urban legends.”  The baby carrot story is an example of how easy it is to take truth and mix it with fiction.  Forward that email and you are an “accidental liar.”

Misuse of statistics is another way to be an accidental liar.

“There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies and statistics”

–popularized by Mark Twain

I’m recently noticing examples of misuse of statistics in the field of communication.

It sounded so official when coaching expert, Alan Vengel, author of 20-Minutes to a Top Performer quoted Dr. Donald E. Wetmore, professor at Mercy College, “We retain 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we hear and see, 70 percent of what we say, and 90 percent of what we do.”

Vengel used those statistics to prove his point that conversation with an employee is more effective than lecturing an employee.  “You can talk to an employee and they will retain 20 percent of what you say; or you can actively engage an employee in a serious back-and-forth discussion and help them retain 70 percent of what they say!”*

Yes! I was ready to latch onto this information and use it to further my own stance on the importance of conversation.

Whoa!  Hold the presses!  I’ve been burned before by statistics.

For example, here’s a statistic that I heard, from more than one source, regarding the importance of non-verbal communication:  Words are only 7% of effective communication.  Below is the graphical representation of the verbal, vocal and visual elements of communication as many communication experts will attest:

I’m guilty of using these statistics without fact checking (see 3:56 to 4:28 of video below):

The problem with these statistics is that they have been misinterpreted to apply to communication in general, not to  the specific type of communication of the study (talking about feelings and attitudes).  This entertaining video debunks the myth:

And now, back to Dr. Wetmore’s statistics.  It turns out that they are based on Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience (1946), to which someone else later added percentages.  This is Dale’s cone with the percentages shown:

The problem with the statistics, as catchy as they sound, is that they are bogus! Dr. Will Thalheimer goes into greater detail here: Bogus percentages on Dale’s Cone of Experience.

Most people don’t intentionally “lie” when they promote faulty or misleading statistics.  Most people sincerely want to help others when they forward on that latest email about some dire, urgent problem. Most people don’t check their facts.

Before you assume, before you forward, post, write or speak, check your facts!

Check your facts from multiple sources.

Check out those urban legends or suspicious emails at

How do you check your facts?

*Vengel, Alan. “20-Minute Leadership.” Leadership Excellence 27.6 (2010): 13. EBSCO MegaFILE. EBSCO. Web. 11 Dec. 2010.

Diane’s website


About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

2 Responses to Don’t Be an Accidental Liar!

  1. Paulie says:

    awesome info Diane. thanks!

  2. epanechnikov says:

    Such claims are fraudulent by definition because no one can possibly evaluate their validity…

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