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Lying at Work
Funny how some things just stick in our heads, all our lives.  I can still recite all the ingredients in a McDonalds Big Mac.   I cannot speak Spanish other than a few token words, but can count to 10 fluently after learning how in kindergarten. And, the moment someone lies to me I hear “liar, liar pants on fire” being chanted by my inner voice.

It happened this week.  It wasn’t a situation where my car got hit in a parking lot and the person who parked next to me said “It wasn’t me.”  It wasn’t at dinner with my friends where one said “I’ve only gained 10 pounds since high school.” and it is clearly more (we went to high school together!).  It was a work setting.  I asked a co-worker a question “Did you deliver this?”   Simple.  Straightforward.  The only options for response was “Yes” or “No.” 

Here is the Secret

So, full disclosure, sometimes I ask questions I already know the answer to.  It’s not meant to be tricky at all.  Sometimes I ask as a learning aid.  As a manager this has repeatedly helped me understand someone else's depth of knowledge or has provided opportunity to coach someone on the fact that it is okay to say “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you with the answer.”  Other times, it is an extention of my intuition and I may have a strong feeling about a particular point and quickly find that I if push on it I can find a weak spot or untapped area of opportunity.  This happened a lot when I lead analytical teams, as I can somehow (I really don’t know how) “see” patterns in data.  That ability combined with experience can uncover both good and bad.  Lastly, I ask these questions because I am gullible.  I believe EVERYTHING.  Even the obviously made-up will trip me up for a few seconds (or years…if you email me I will tell you a story that I erroneously believed for at least 25 years).

Yes or No

The answer, a day later was “Here it is, again.  So-and–so must have misplaced it, or maybe you overlooked it.”  The conundrum:  I have proof it was never delivered.  They just don’t know that.  Therefore, I know they are lying.  I’m sure your parents told you as a child not to lie.  There are many type of lies, some of which are black lies, white lies and lies by omission.  Some are big (Enron or Bernie Madoff).   Some are small (“I wasn’t looking at her…”).  The act of lying is like destruction by water; regardless of how much or how little, consider the damaging effects:

  • Reputation.  It takes years to build and only a second to destroy
  • Trust.  Is a basic structural component of all working relationships and is prone to deterioration
  • Respect.  The quality of your word will decrease in value. 

Those are immediate and immeasurable damages but there are long term impacts too:

  • Suspicion.  Attention is now looking for future offenses
  • Gossip.  Only tell one person and they tell someone and so on and so on. Pretty soon 10 people know. 

The Obvious

Don’t lie, even over something that could be explained by “I forgot.”  Don’t blame others, as you have now compounded lying, causing exponential damage.  Don’t fool yourself by saying I would never do that, sometimes it is just the easiest route.

I’m fairly certain that the co-worker would say one of their core values is integrity.  I’m sure they think the deliverable was small and unimportant.  Honestly, it was small and unimportant.  I’m sure they think their response was ‘not really a lie’.  But…it has made me more cautious and less unconditional, as I think about our future interactions.

The author, Diahann Boock, is the founder of Women's Ally. For information about working with Diahann, check out our Programs.

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