“If the words don’t add up, it’s usually because the truth wasn’t added into the equation”
“I cannot tell a lie”
Remember that famous quote from George Washington about cutting down the cherry tree? Funny thing, he actually never said it. Kind of ironic considering he would become our president and leader of the United States.
I guess we should’ve known from there that politics and of course leaders are (in) famously known for lying. However, this got me curious, outside of politics specifically – why do leaders lie?
Fact: Whether it’s inside or outside the workplace, we all lie about something. So much so, the data is quite staggering:
- We lie roughly 3 times per every 10 minutes of conversation.
- We are lied to as many as 200 times a day.
- We detect lies with only 54% accuracy.
- Between 75% and 82% of lies go undetected.
- Of the lies we tell, 25% are for someone else’s sake.
One of my favorite books on this topic is “Lying” by best selling author and neuroscientist Sam Harris. He states: that although there may be life and death situations that require a person to lie; ethically superior, noble people don’t lie. He contends that lies cause irreparable rifts in relationships, causing us to distrust those on whom we had relied. So to lie is to sacrifice our integrity, and to place the possibility of deep and meaningful bonds with fellow humans at risk.
Wow, as if we needed to be told this but then again looking at the data – maybe we do. So let’s dive deeper with a focus on leaders.
Why Leaders Lie
Here are some of the common reasons they tell these lies according to one of my favorite Leadership Experts (and “Freak”) Dan Rockwell:
- Build image.
- Save face.
- Prevent turmoil.
- Solve conflict.
- Distract or misdirect.
- Manipulate others.
- Protect information.
- Put others down.
- Elevate stocks.
- Deceive themselves.
The Types of Liars
The role of a leader is to set the vision and guide their people in the direction they believe is right for them and the company. Sounds accurate, however once you factor in the unknown challenges that show up – leaders are often found at a crossroads in terms of what’s the best next course of action. Their role requires both keeping their faith and the spirit of their followers as they push forward. All of this pressure can cause good people to (do and) say bad things. Although there are many different types of leaders, there are five 5 common type of liars:
- Sociopathic Liars are defined as someone who lies continuously in an attempt to get their own way, without showing care or concern for others. These individuals are goal-oriented. Sociopaths don’t have a lot of respect or regard for the feelings and rights of others. They tend to be charismatic and charming, but they will use their exceptional social skills in a self-centered and manipulative manner.
- Compulsive Liars are defined as someone who continually lies from sheer habit. Lying tends to be their normal manner of responding to any questions from others. These individuals will always bend the truth, regardless of how small or large the question is. For these individuals, telling the truth doesn’t feel right. They are uncomfortable whenever they tell the truth, while lying makes them feel right.
- Occasional Liars are those who seldom tell a lie. When they do, they are so blown away by what they said that their guilt overcomes them. These individuals are quick to ask for forgiveness from the individual that they lied to. Occasional liars might not be perfect, but they are often respected for their attempts at being truthful and humble enough to admit when they are wrong.
- Careless Liars will go about their normal lives and lie every way they can. They aren’t concerned about trying to hide their lies or making sure they make sense. Everyone knows that the person isn’t being honest because they tend to be sloppy with their lies.
- White Liars don’t usually think of themselves as true “liars”. They justify their white lies as harmless, or even beneficial, in the long term. They will sometimes tell only part of the truth, and not be suspected of lying at all. White liars may use their lies to to shield someone from what they believe is a hurtful or damaging truth.
The Lies Leaders Tell
Here are some of the most common types lies they tell according to an excellent Forbes article on the subject:
- Lies of Social Status are the lubricant of workplace relationships, where an implicit deal is struck between the liar and the lie-ee: You won’t tell me the unvarnished truth, and I won’t scrutinize everything you say.
- Lies of Exaggeration are the embellishments used when people try to appear more capable than they really are.
- Lies of Omission are meant to mislead by leaving out a critical piece of information and letting the recipient draw the wrong conclusion.
- Lies of Protection are often seen as an altruistic alternative to hurting someone’s feelings.
- Lies of Deflection are an attempt to protect oneself or to avoid punishment.
- Lies of Destruction are blatant falsehoods with one sole purpose, which is to erode trust and workplace relationships.
- White (or small) Lies are most common and readily forgiven or overlooked.
Final thoughts: We all know lying can be devastating to both people, companies and of course cultures. The lies that are perpetrated impact everyone involved, especially the one telling it. The next time you are faced with a leader who lies, don’t panic…there are indeed actions you can take. In the end, the truth doesn’t cost anything but a lie could cost you everything.
The floor is yours: When is it okay to tell a lie in the workplace?
Please leave your comment below as your insights are greatly appreciated and a learning opportunity for everyone reading this article.
Joshua / www.JoshHMiller.com
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