Big Little Lies: How To Survive A Workplace Where Untruths Are Common
Straight answers. Truth. Not fibs. It’s what you want from a leader in the workplace, or anywhere.
But how do you maneuver around a leader who habitually gives false responses to questions when you need to know the real facts? And how do you exist in a team where your colleagues are not forthcoming about what’s real and true?
A culture of dishonesty in a workplace can begin from the bottom, and start with minor fibs about time management and completion of projects. It can also move from the top down, with leaders who deliberately give inaccurate answers to the public, clients and team members because they don’t want to cause alarm or panic, or they just want to hide.
Lies – no matter what direction they hail from—are toxic.
Interesting to note is that research shows that men and women lie about the same in competitive situations, but women lie far less than men when the need for empathy is involved.
“Dr. Maryam Kouchaki studies the role of ethics and morality in negotiation. Occasionally, this intersects with how gender roles might actually cause us to bend our enforcement of ethics. ‘Decades of research have established that women tend to be less competitive and less assertive in negotiation. When it comes to ethics, we have seen a very similar pattern. There seems to be a robust gender difference when it comes to deception in negotiation,’” according to Tanya Tarr in Forbes.
“Kouchaki found that women might justify the use of deception when they think they are expected to lie or do whatever it takes to win a negotiation because they are under pressure to produce specific outcomes,” Tarr writes.
When is lying a big enough problem to warrant action—including reporting the lie, correcting the lie or leaving?
“Some lies are benign, of course. If you had a bad morning and someone asks you how you’re doing, it is not a problem to say that you’re doing fine rather than dragging someone else through a detailed account of everything that has gone wrong so far. It’s the big lies that have real business consequences that are a problem,” writes Art Markman in Fast Company.
Trust is important in working relationships, whether with colleagues or bosses. Accountability and transparency would be the enemies of liars and would make them susceptible to getting caught. If you are able to discuss as a team the need to be straightforward and honest with each other on all things related to projects and efforts, just the mere discussion might change the propensity to lie.
Markman writes, “If you catch a colleague in a lie, it is worth saying something. Each of us has a responsibility to set the tone for our workplace. If the liar is a supervisor, then it will probably be hard to say anything. In that case, you’re probably going to need to find other sources of information–at least until you can get yourself moved to another work group.”
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., author of “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt How You Lead,” writes in Ladders, “In the era of personal branding, two things are most important to success: Your professional network and your reputation. Nothing can weaken a network or destroy a reputation faster than being exposed as a liar.”
Hopefully you and your coworkers will not want to tarnish that reputation by being unreliable with the truth. And it is also important to be able to trust that the leader of the team is a person of integrity.
According to Ladders, “If there’s one thing that drives almost all employees crazy, it’s a boss who doesn’t walk the talk. It’s extremely difficult to feel inspired and to take your job seriously when the person who sets your standards doesn’t live up to those expectations herself. If your boss is a hypocrite, it’s time to go.”
Lies have personal consequences as well, for the liar. Whether or not the liar ignores them is up to the liar.
“In a 2016 study in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Dan Ariely of Duke University and colleagues showed how dishonesty alters people’s brains, making it easier to tell lies in the future. When people uttered a falsehood, the scientists noticed a burst of activity in their amygdala. The amygdala is a crucial part of the brain that produces fear, anxiety and emotional responses — including that sinking, guilty feeling you get when you lie,” the Washington Post reports.
The truth may not always come out in the end, but it likely will emerge eventually.
According to Forbes, “Jerome Wade, a leading authority on executive fatigue, and author of Unleashed, says that, ‘The data never lies. Unless you lie about the data.’ Playing to win really means playing by the rules, because winning at all costs is a price you can’t afford to pay.”
You can decide if you want to have a direct confrontation about the lie with the person, even if it is your boss.
“Once you spot deceit, you have to choose between the lesser of two evils. If you confront your boss, you may poison the relationship forever. The same may be true if you go to someone else in the firm, such as HR or your boss’s boss,” Pamela Meyer writes in Harvard Business Review.
Meyer, author of Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception, is the CEO of Calibriate, a deception detection and inside threat mitigation consulting firm and her 2011 TED talk, “How to Spot a Liar,” is one of the 20 most popular TED talks of all time.
Meyer writes, “Think before you act, gossip, or complain. Have a hard conversation with yourself. Do you want to keep your job? Confrontation or sounding an alarm is not a good way to do that. But if changing jobs is not out of the question, it may make sense to directly address the deceit.”
If you are so uncomfortable with the culture of deceit that you just can’t bear the work, then you maybe should leave. If the lies were a one-time mistake, think hard about an exit. The good news is most people aren’t natural born liars.
“A 2010 study on the prevalence of lying in America found that in a given 24-hour period, most adults reported not telling any lies. Almost half the lies recorded in the study could be attributed to just 5 percent of participants. And most people avoided lying when they could, turning to deception only when the truth was troublesome,” according to The Washington Post.
Be honest with yourself, and in your actions, about the need to tell the truth to be a good employee and a good leader. You definitely want to be believable.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com