Almost all of us do it. Trying to be funny, trying to impress, or just ‘because’. The few I have met who seem to never exaggerate are those with extremely precise minds and will use the word “about” when they are not sure of a measurement to the level that an engineer would like it (millimetres or smaller). Come to think of it, they have often been scientists or engineers.
It seems pretty harmless, but does it have a negative side?
I think it does.
The person with an inferiority complex, who exaggerates everything they have, know, are around. Their parties are always the best, their friends are from the upper echelons of whatever society, their clothes and accessories sport brand labels (sometimes not those they started out their existence with). It seems harmless, but it generally annoys knowledgeable people so much that they start to actively dislike and avoid the boaster, leaving that person feeling even lonelier and more left out. So it can become a deadly spiral.
What can be amusing exaggeration in social or friendly events, can become very serious when money and ranking are involved. The chap who exaggerates his golf score while playing a friendly may annoy his partners, who will simply spread the word, but a professional golfer who manages to cheat, could be doing someone else out of money and all that goes with ranking in sport these days.
Exaggerated description of a situation to blacken someone’s name is not simply funny or harmless. I had been consulting at a company where they were unhappy with the delivery from one supplier, I heard about the meeting where they terminated the contract. Some weeks later I met some of the staff from the company who lost the contract and they told me of how one of their people kept telling their senior management that one person (let’s call him Mr Gruff) was rude to the customer. Mr Gruff was a very bright person, but a little reserved, sometimes sounding rather gruff when people couldn’t keep up with his thinking. After the contract was lost, Mr Gruff was fired “for rudeness to the customer”. When the tattletale had been tackled over drinks by some of the others he’d said “So I exaggerated a little, there’s no harm in that”. Well it lost a man his job.
(Very stupidly as they should have realised a client can ask so easily to have someone removed from their site or a specific project, but seldom cancel a contract unless the supplier is just not giving what is agreed, but then as they went out of business a couple of years later I guess they weren’t too bright anyway.)
An interesting twist to end the story; I dropped the fact that Mr Gruff was no longer with the original company and two weeks later, there he was, working directly for the customer. They appreciated his brightness and directness. But I suspect not all nastiness done via exaggeration ends as well as that case.
Theft/corruption can be disguised as exaggeration. I know a contractor working at a government site, he’s empowered to provide decision making on many large contracts (the department head believes him implicitly). He’s on the take in a big way. One of his methods is to phone the salesman for a supplier organisation and invite him for drinks. This is usually after 10 at night. When the salesman arrives, the chap and his friends have been drinking all evening, and when it’s over, the salesman is expected to pick up the bill. The description is “a little entertainment”, but the bill usually runs into thousands. I always wondered how he described the trip to the Monaco Grand Prix that he wangled from another supplier, probably “entertainment after a site visit” or some other exaggeration.
Thankfully there is exaggeration that is also funny.
For some light relief, Robin Williams who exaggerates a whole heap (but don’t watch if the F-word offends you)