Charlatanism: An old problem in a modern world / Part 1

The definition of Charlatan is “…a person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill…” provided by Google search. In the 17th and 18th century Charlatans were peddlers of magic cures, elixirs and potions. Claiming to offer cures to life-threatening conditions and diseases. Charlatans prey on the weak and the desperate.

In modern language, these people are Conmen, frauds, fakes, etc. But none of these terms covers it for me. The best term is just – Liar.

For more extreme cases, there is a scientific classification: Pseudologia fantastica. In other words, a pathological liar. While this terminology makes the condition sound remote, the truth is there are more sufferers than you realise, and you encounter them more often than you would like. Their behaviour is often perceived as harmless and entertaining, but there is a darker side.

When this capacity for remorseless lying is combined with a Machiavellian, manipulative and deceitful behaviour, it’s surprising how much damage can be done.

It always surprises me how many people are easily taken in by these people in the beginning. As a result, in professional and social situations they can gain considerable position, influence or power without delivering any substance to back their wild claims.

In time, the lack of substance to their stories, the re-writing of history, the unfulfilled dreams and the dashed expectations give away their identity. Eventually, people in their immediate vicinity (the victims) start to group together and discuss the individual in question’s behaviour. In turn, the group look to reject the individual and eventually exile them. This alienation completes the cycle and forces the individual to move on and break their way into a new group with more wild stories, false histories and lies.

In severe cases, the Pseudologia fantastica is combined with addictions such as drugs, gambling or alcohol. In these cases, considerable damage can be done to the individual, family, friends and people in regular contact.

It is easy to feel sorry for these people. They are tragic characters. But your attitudes change when you witness the damage, the egocentricity and the remorseless of their behaviour first hand.

So what’s the relevance in business? Simple – these people can cause havoc in businesses. They get promotions they don’t deserve; they fill environments with toxicity, lies and deceit and their remorseless actions damage the careers of many people.

How do they get away with it long enough to do such damage? It’s simple, good honest people are polite. Regular people, give pathological liars the benefit of the doubt. It’s rare for people to be taken in by the lies, they simply state that they found the person entertaining or funny. But this is the narrative people use to explain a lack of willingness to be confrontational. Again, politeness!

It’s only when these liars take people’s kindness for weakness, their generosity for foolishness and their faith for stupidity that people wake up and start to confront.

The truth is we must wise up to the sufferers of Pseudologia fantastica. We must stop taking these Charlatans and what they say on face value and delay judgement until people have proven to be honest, trustworthy and reliable. It’s a sad fact, but we must protect ourselves, our people, our society and our businesses.

In brief…

  • Fact versus fiction.
  • Proof versus faith.
  • Product versus marketing
  • Actions versus words
  • Logic versus intuition (Most of the time)

I have a feeling we would all be happier. Even the Charlatans! More to follow soon…

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