If you have been working in any environment you quickly discover people's natural propensity to lie, embellish the truth, or twist the details of a story. Sadly, it does not matter if it's in a Fortune500 company, start-up, church, or non-profit, people lie. Ouch.
There is an old Yiddish proverb that says, "A half truth is a whole lie." This is a difficult truth to embrace, because we want to believe people tell the truth. According to psychologists, "Lying allows a person to establish perceived control over a situation by manipulating it." Now, I don't want to complicate the good doctors from psytherapy.co.uk, but I am a much more simple minded person. Lying is not as simple as a one lined rationale. In the workplace, I believe it is much more simplistic.
I like what Winston Churchill once said, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." Aint that the truth! That's why leaders have to not only recognize a lie, but also the reason behind it. I believe there are four reason why people lie in the workplace. I am sure there may be more, but as I said before I am simple minded.
First reason people lie at work:
They are afraid of conflict
According to a study from 2023, 76% of employees prefer to avoid conflict. That simply means 3/4 of your staff or team may choose to lie just to avoid creating an internal issue. Now, even though people don't want conflict the problem is long-term lying to avoid conflict actually creates more conflict.
I have this expression I say often, "Pull the bandaid off." In other words, don't ignore it, just deal with it right away and move on. Most of the time just yanking the bandaid off and being honest is the right thing to do.
Second reason people lie at work:
They dont want to expose their failure or inadequecy
Some employees lie to cover up their issues. They don't want anyone to see where they failed or missed an assignment or forgot to return a call. So, they lie. In an article in the Harvard Business Review it revealed that people lie at work most often to make themselves look better than they are. That's about covering up or short falls to make someone look better than we are.
The only challenge to this excuse is that even though we try to cover up our issues, those around us see the issues anyway, so we might as well just be honest anyway from the start.
Third reason people lie at work:
They tell you what you want to hear to make you happy
And then there are some co-workers that just don't want to disappoint anyone so they just lie to make you happy. "That was the best presentation you ever gave." Even though you know that it was subpar, but they tell you a little white lie to put a smile on your face. The challenge is the more more little lies you tell lying becomes even easier. The intention of this lie is good, but the outcome becomes a habit of lying, instead of being honest.
Final reason people lie at work:
They are selfishly motivated
There are some lies that people tell just because they want to look better. They will take credit for others work, manipulate facts, or always says, "I had no idea," when everyone knows they knew. This is the type of lying that is about personal advancement over team success. It is potentially the most dangerous. It is about reaping benefits built on wrong information. This personal is motivated by applause and approval.
I like what Liz Kilzick, wrote in an article, "If you can catch small mistruths quickly, correct them, and lay out the correct behavioral norms or restructure the rewards or processes, you may be able to coach and train an early liar into better behavior, thereby salvaging the employee relationship and showing your team that you can keep everyone safe and productive." Once you identify why someone lied it is easier to helpe process the truth that is behind the wall of mistruth.
The goal of a team is to move forward together and that cannot happen within a team that is not built on honesty and transparency.
Do people lie? Yes.
Have I lied? Yes.
But I am trying to get better.
How about you?