Why You Unconsciously Lie at Work

I just called a colleague to ask him to participate in a third-party project I was working on. I wanted him to join so that I‘d have an excuse to spend more time with him, and I found myself saying all sorts of things to get him to agree. For example, the project wouldn’t require any time at all, and that it was the most meaningful initiative I’d worked on in years.

Some of my comments were half-truths, and some were pretty close to being outright lies.

Why We Tiptoe Around the Truth

I consider myself to be a pretty moral person, so it bothers me that I’m not always honest with co-workers. It’s the worst when someone asks me my opinion and I don’t want to hurt her feelings.  Why can’t I just be straight with people?

According to Peter Bregman in his blog post for Psychology Today, the answer is that I don’t want to feel mean or rude, and don’t want the person I’m talking to disapprove of me for being mean or rude. By lying to preserve someone’s feelings, I’m the one who feels better.

Lying Doesn’t Work

Subtly positioning things so they appear in a better light and massaging the truth to make it more likely to be embraced also makes me feel better too. It also takes an exceptional amount of energy and apparently fools no one.

But even understanding that, I’m still one of Bregman’s minions. I still try to make things seem different than they are because it takes courage to be honest. I have to be willing to be vulnerable, and I’m not great at that.

Bregman says that honesty is much more compelling, powerful, and effective than the alternative. People want the truth. They are willing to accept it far more often than we think, and respect other people and organizations for speaking it.  Truly honest people make it easier for others to identify with them, trust them, and ultimately value them as leaders.

How often do you lie to people at work?  What are your motivations, and do you think more honesty would serve you well?

Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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