Would you be willing to admit that you lie?
I just felt you squirm. I know I did when I encountered the question the other day.
So, let me take the pressure off. While we surely don’t like to admit it, we all lie. Degree and kind certainly factor into our self-analysis. Think Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
I will be the first to admit I am no George Washington. No, I don’t think of myself as a liar. And I think most people I know would consider me to be a person of integrity. I would think most of you feel the same way. Yet at the very least the fact is we all shade the truth at times.
Why do we do this? A variety of reasons I suppose. Peer pressure. Work pressure. To be liked. Competition. Just being nice. To avoid an obligation (we encounter this a lot in the collections business).
One of my beefs lately is the prominence of the phrase “Shape the Narrative” or some derivative. No less than the respected historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes about the ability to shape the narrative as a key and desirable quality of great leaders.
Yet which conflicting “narrative” is right? At what point does shaping the narrative simply become a euphemism for lying?
At all events, lying can be innocent, unintentional and benign. Of course, it can also be self-destructive, self-deceiving and ultimately harmful to our reputation and our ability to be effective as a person.
The other day I came across an article in the Harvard Business Review “What to Do When You’re Caught in a Lie (Even an Unintentional One)” by Ron Carucci (read it here) The subject of the article is really not about lying. It is about conflict and confrontation when someone is caught lying. A pretty unconventional subject if you ask me. But intriguing, nonetheless.
“People lie, on average, one to two times per day” says Carucci. “While the percentage of lies told by a person, the conditions under which we lie, and the degree to which the truth gets stretched all vary, research agrees — we all do it sometimes.”
True. But once or twice a day? I suppose that does not even include the lies we tell ourselves (“I’m not speeding if I am keeping up with traffic!” “These jeans make me look slimmer!”). Heck, I am glad someone is not keeping track of mine. I hope!
At all events, why do we lie? According to Carucci “Most of us believe that our lies actually work — mainly because it takes a rare person to confront us.”
He goes on to point out that we probably all have encountered a straight up lie and pick up cues from the person telling it. Not all of us have good poker faces. I know I don’t.
And if you are the perpetrator of a falsehood, you may feel you have gotten away with something and it will just slide by. However, Carucci says “…don’t assume things will be OK after the painful silence or furrowed eyebrows subside. Your reputation is now in question.”
Perhaps fatally. And it can go farther than just our personal reputation. How many companies can you name that have suffered greatly because they overpromised and underdelivered? Or just outright lied about their product or services? If you are of my generation think Enron. If a later think Theranos.
So, if you get caught in a lie, intentional or unintentional, what to do? If you are like me, my guts simply won’t let me let it go unaddressed. Carucci has some suggestions.
- “First, reflect on why you lied.” Largely this involves getting to the root cause of why we felt compelled to lie in the first place. Enhance our reputation? Go to any lengths to earn the business? Says Carucci: “Dishonesty is never random. Underneath our lies are unmet needs that we believe lying might satisfy. Identifying these needs is the first step to finding healthier ways to fulfill them.”
Another good point: “Whatever your motivation, remember that identifying why you lied in no way excuses it. You may be tempted to quell any lingering feelings of shame with self-justification for lying in the first place. ‘It’s not fair…,’ ‘I deserve this…,’ and ‘Why should I have to…’ are all defenses we use to rationalize deception. If you catch yourself defending your lies, that’s a clear signal that you are avoiding something deeper. Instead, ask yourself, ‘What underlying fears am I trying to protect?’ Remember, dishonesty often provides no more than a momentary surge of false regard in the eyes of others.”
2. “Assess the credibility damage.” Do you feel yourself losing credibility or not being solicited for opinions? It is time to take an honest assessment of what damage a distortion of the truth has caused you. Carucci: “As you recognize signs of weakening credibility, you may be triggered to lie even more to regain it. Resist your natural instinct to diminish the extent of the damage. Doing so will only perpetuate a cycle of deceit. Instead, evaluate the gap between the reputation you want and the reputation you have. Do you want to be known as someone with great ideas who delivers on commitments? Or as the go-to leader who can solve the toughest problems? Once you are clear on this, you can more accurately evaluate the degree of doubt you may have raised by attempting to dishonestly engineer that reputation.”
3. “Look for ways to demonstrate self-honesty.” Commit to changing. This can be very hard, especially if this is an ingrained habit. Look for ways to right the ship and rebuild your credibly. “…if your humility is being questioned, genuine expressions of self-doubt about your ideas, self-deprecating acknowledgements of things you aren’t good at, and affirmations of others’ greater abilities can remind people that you aren’t all bad and that aspects of your integrity are still intact.” Clearly this can take a lot of time and effort but if you want to reestablish your integrity you need to start right now.
And I would add a fourth to the list.
4. Admit it, own it, correct it, and accept the consequences. I think this would be the hardest to do because it requires a degree of humility that is often discouraged in the business world. Often it is hard to admit a mistake let alone confess to a lie. Yet the sooner amends can be made the better. More often than not, while the initial reaction may not be easy to swallow, getting it all out can help the healing begin all around.
A. Alliance Collection Agency, Inc. is a full service, licensed accounts receivable management and debt collection agency providing highly effective, customized one on one management and recovery solutions for our business partners. Founded in northern Illinois in 2005, we have been proudly improving the bottom-line on behalf of our business partners in and around Chicagoland for over 14 years.
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