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Recommendations for People with Dubious Qualifications
*** When the truth just won't do ***
UPI, Philadelphia ---
You're called upon for an opinion of a friend who is extremely lazy. You
don't want to lie --- but you also don't want to risk losing even a lazy
Try this line: "In my opinion," you say as sincerely as you can manage,
"you will be very fortunate to get this person to work for you."
This gem of double meaning is the creating of Robert Thornton, a professor
of economics at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.
Thornton was frustrated about an occupational hazard for teachers, 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.
A few Examples
He calls his collection the Lexicon of Inconspicuously Ambiguous
Recommendations. Or "LIAR", for short.
"[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," Thronton explained last week.
Some examples from LIAR:
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 desdribe a job applicant who is not worth further consideration:
"I would urge you to waste no time in makeing this candidate an offer of
To describe a person with lackluster credentials: "All in all, I
cannot say enough good things about this candidate or recommend him too
Lack of confidentiality
Thornton pointed out that LIAR is not only useful in preserving friendships,
but it also can help avoid serious legal trouble in a time when laws have
eroded the confidentiality of letters of recommendation.
In most states, he noted, job applicants have the right to read the letters
of recommendations and can even file suit against the writer if the
contents are negative.
When the writer uses LIAR, however, "whether perceived correctly or not
by the candidate, the phrases are virtually litigation-proof," Thornton said.