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It hadn’t occurred to me until the other day when I saw posts on Facebook concerning Time Magazine. Indeed some people — when confronted with facts counter to their claims — use the “just joking” defense.

We’re hardly the only person (auctioneer) to notice this phenomenon. Laura Tropp, PhD wrote about this in 2017: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/mama-phd/just-joking-defense.

What we were reminded of was a case several years ago when an auctioneer got in trouble by misrepresenting property up for auction … only to say that he was “just joking” when the buyers found out the property wasn’t as described.

Similar to when an auctioneer puffs (expresses sales talk) as we discussed recently here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2019/11/25/sales-talk-and-puffing-held-as-fact/, joking or puffing is largely legal if the other party knows you are joking or puffing.

To say this “just joking” defense didn’t work out for this auctioneer would be an understatement with damages exceeding $100,000. The problem was none of these misrepresentations were held as joking until after the buyers took action.

Opposing counsel suggested that auctioneers routinely puff, exaggerate and dramatize their representations and as such, buyers (should) know it’s not factual. On the contrary, the court ruled that the “just joking” defense was deceptive at best.

We’ve started to see a lot more of the “just joking” strategy not only in court and on Facebook, but from sellers, bidders, buyers, friends, relatives, on television, radio and seemingly everywhere else. Apparently, I can say virtually anything — true or not — and then if/when called out, I can merely proclaim I was just joking?

Dr. Tropp suggests in her aforementioned article, “Humor is important to our culture, but people need to grow out of using a certain type of humor in order to become responsible members of society.” I would certainly concur and hold that in business and regarding (what you propose as) serious matters, this type of advocated humor has no merit.

Joking and humor has a place — and factual statements have a place, but routinely mixing the two together causes needless dubiousness and lessens the value of your arguments as we can’t tell what you think and what you don’t (or maybe we can?) — and rather conclude maybe you don’t know the difference?

I encourage new folks to the auction industry — be honest and have integrity. If something’s true, state it as true and if something’s false or otherwise you are “just joking” ensure the receiver of that information is reasonably informed of your attempt at humor.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and America’s Auction Academy. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by the The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.