The 10 Most Common Workplace Lies

LiesWriting “The Truth About Lies in the Workplace” allowed me to document the variety of lies encountered at work. In the workplace people fib, flatter, fabricate, prevaricate, equivocate, embellish, “take liberties with,” “bend,” or “stretch” the truth. They boast, conceal, falsify, omit, spread gossip, misinform, or cover-up embarrassing (perhaps even unethical) acts. They lie in order to avoid accepting responsibility, to build status and power, to “protect” others from hearing a negative truth, to preserve a sense of autonomy, to keep their jobs, to get out of unwanted work, to get on the good side of the boss, to be perceived as “team players” when their main interest is self-interest. Or they lie because they’re under pressure to perform and because (as one co-worker observed about his teammates) “they lack the guts to tell the boss that what is being asked isn’t doable.”

Liar 2Some people are better than others at lying. If you are creative, you are one of them. Not because creativity makes you more likely to be dishonest but because you’re probably good at convincing yourself of your own lies. If you have a charismatic or dominant personality (as many C-Suite executives do), you probably also have a special capacity to deceive – which doesn’t mean you lie more than others, it just suggests that when you do, you’re more skilled at it. If you’re an extrovert you lie at a higher rate than introverts. If you are intelligent, you can think strategically and plan ahead like a good chess player – and you can better handle the “cognitive load” imposed by lying. If you are manipulative or overly concerned about the impression you are making on others you tell more lies. If you are adept at reading body language, you are also adept at sensing when other people are getting suspicious. And if you have a good memory, you are less likely to be tripped up by your falsehoods.   Omission

Workplace lies run the gamut, from small, everyday lies to whoppers, from benign (even helpful) to destructive. Here are the 10 major categories of lies with examples of each:

1. Social lies are the lubricant of workplace relationships. We couldn’t survive in business – or in society – without them. With social or “white” lies, there is an implicit deal struck between the liar and the lie-ee: You won’t tell me the unvarnished truth, and I won’t scrutinize everything you say.

If I ask you how things are going, I don’t want to hear the story of your life. Just say “fine,” and I’ll do the same.

2. Lies of exaggeration are the embellishments used when people try to appear more capable than they really are.

My husband’s an actor. If they need men on horseback for a scene, he’ll swear he’s an expert rider. He’s not.

3. Lies of omission are meant to mislead by leaving out a critical piece of information and letting the recipient draw the wrong conclusion.

The job candidate said he felt “stifled” in his previous job, so he left the organization. He neglected to mention that he’d been fired.

4. Protective lies are often seen as an altruistic alternative to hurting someone’s feelings.

I complimented her on the presentation because I didn’t want her to be discouraged.

5. Defensive lies are an attempt to protect oneself or to avoid punishment.

It’s not my fault. No one told me that I was in charge of sending the agenda.

6. Blatant falsehoods are readily exposed by other sources or eventual outcomes. Because of that, the liar is viewed as unaware and out of touch.

Recently a senior leader was fired and it was announced as a “retirement.” That was a blatant and stupid lie, as we heard the truth from the person who was let go.

7. Destructive lies poison workplace relationships by destroying trust.

We were told it was a matter of cutting costs, and that if we just gave up a little – the company would get back on track. So we did. Only to find out that the top executives had given themselves salary increases and bonuses.

8. Malicious gossip is meant to undermine, harm, or destroy another person’s career.

When my colleague didn’t get the assignment, he spread the rumor that I was chosen because I took credit for other people’s ideas.

9. Small lies are readily forgiven or overlooked.

My manager gave out an earlier due date (for the completion of a project) than was necessary. She knew some people would procrastinate and she wanted to make sure the work was done on schedule.

10. Big lies are almost never forgotten nor forgiven.

My boss assured me that my position was secure – then he accidentally copied me on an email about interviewing my replacement.

Stop the lies

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