Big Little Work Lies: 5 Ways To Handle Untruths At Work
Lying about participation in a project. Lying about meeting a deadline. Lying about what was said or done at a conference. Lying about what is on a resume. Lying about feedback from a client.
Unfortunately most all of us have run into not so pretty little liars in the workplace. Most of us lie two to three times every 10 minutes, according to a University of Massachusetts study. Lying is not just habitual and annoying, it is costly. Very costly.
According to new research from Washington University-St. Louis, lying and dishonest behavior by employees is estimated to come at a $3.7 trillion cost annually worldwide.
“It can be a vicious cycle,” says Ashley E. Hardin, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Olin. “Sometimes people will tell a white lie and think it’s not a big deal. But a decision to be dishonest in one moment will have implications for how you interact with people subsequently.”
It’s no surprise that liars and cheaters can hurt the overall sense of safety and comfort in the workplace, as well.
“Given the rise of group work in organizations, there’s a heightened awareness of the importance of understanding others’ emotions,” Hardin said. Also, a person’s ability to read emotions is crucial in negotiations and in building relationships.
Dishonesty has repercussions beyond harming trust and one’s reputation if others become aware of it, according to the study, “The interpersonal costs of dishonesty: How dishonest behavior reduces individuals’ ability to read others’ emotions,” published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.
So assuming, you are not the liar at work, how can you handle the fallout from the falsehoods?
Encourage a culture of transparency and truth. Building trust with employees, colleagues and clients is essential because then violating the trust of others would seem out of the question. According to the Douglas County Herald, when someone is lied to, “the person betrayed can feel angry, devastated and perhaps unsure whether to ever trust anyone again, say Elaine Eisenman, PhD, and Susan Stautberg, co-authors of Betrayed: A Survivor’s Guide to Lying, Cheating, & Double-Dealing. “In all relationships we trust others, believing that while they will look out for their own best interest, they will also respect ours. Unfortunately, that’s not always so,” Stautberg says. Eisenman says, “Regardless of how well you know someone, treat any business arrangement with due diligence. Motives can be hidden, even with the best of friends.”
Know the scope and breadth of the lie. Yes, the lies can be little and seem inconsequential, like what time you came to work or why you didn’t attend a meeting. Or the lies can be enormously consequential, such as hiding and lying about failing to include critical information in a project. Lyndsey Reid writes in Ladders, “Lying in the office is a pandemic,” Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job,” told Business Insider. “Especially if you consider the amount of tiny white lies circulating in the daily course of business.” Reid writes, “The more egregious garden variety of lies include massive and destructive lies. A massive lie, for example, is promising an employee a promotion or salary increase and later going back on your word. A destructive lie is spreading malicious gossip about a coworker.”
Model truth-telling and accountability for falsehoods. If it seems as if everyone is lying, it is easier to lie. But if everyone in an organization, particularly those at the top, model integrity and truth-telling, then lying will seem out of place. And if someone gets information wrong, owning up to the mistake and apologizing is what needs to be done, not hoping everyone forgets. Business News Daily reports, “One of the hardest people to work with is someone who lies. ‘Lying is a common strategy that is involved in building and maintaining relationships,’ said Dr. Russell Thackeray, a licensed clinical psychologist at QED. It is simply much easier to work with someone truthful than working with someone whose veracity you have to question.
Distance yourself from the lies. Anyone who watches crime shows knows there is a certain amount of covering for a partner. But the last thing you want to do is be tainted by a lie you did not create and that you are dragged into spreading or defending. You can say that you would rather not be involved or that you don’t have that information. Your silence will be telling. According to Saige Driver in Business News Daily, “Try to stay calm and professional while you're determining their motives. You don't need to be good friends with all your co-workers, but you do need to be able to work with everyone. If you become heated or unprofessional, it could damage your work relationships and reputation. ‘Don't get caught in their web of lies,’ said Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster. ‘Stay true to yourself and stay true to being honest, regardless of what your co-worker says or does.’"
Know that liars get caught. In a digital age, everyone leaves an indelible footprint on past activities, statements, published reports, almost everything. That should be deterrent enough, knowing that if the lie is big enough it can cost you your job and your reputation, perhaps your career. This may also offer some relief if you feel inclined to blow the whistle on someone you work with who has lied. Don’t bother. Lies catch up to everyone eventually. You can correct a mistake without calling out a lie. You don’t have to be the moral compass for everyone in your organization. Just for yourself.