Leon Gettler: Lies at work


Lying is probably older than the world’s oldest profession. Psychologists say we all have an innate ability to manipulate the truth to suit our own purpose. This is not to say that everyone is a liar. Most people are truthful. But manipulating expectations is a survival trait, so it’s not surprising you will often find people bending the truth in the office where it’s all about survival. The lies can be about anything. Some, for example, embellish CVs. Others cover up for failed projects and mistakes. Or they will deny knowledge of an event or situation. They might say they were not present when certain information was conveyed. And then, there are white lies. Like, for example, “that’s funny, I thought I sent that email”. Or, “it wasn’t me.”

Sounds familiar? How do we deal with it? The first is to accept that it’s more common than we like to think.

According to a Career Builder survey, one in five workers admit they’ve told porkies at work. We learn that 13 per cent lie to cover things up and 26 per cent have lied to appease a customer. Significantly, one in four managers has dismissed employees for lying.

Management professor David Isenberg says that for most entrepreneurs, lying comes with the territory. “Some don’t like the term “lying”;” they prefer to call it stretching the truth, or even ‘marketing’,” Isenberg says. “But it’s clear, many entrepreneurs feel they have to embellish or twist the truth, or outright fabricate some friendly “facts,” to help level the playing field for their business.” According to entrepreneur and commentator Guy Kawasaki, the top lies of entrepreneurs include lines like “Our projections are conservative”, “we have no competition” and “key employees will be joining us when we get funding”. We’ve heard all that before.

So how do we deal with lies in the workplace?  Forbes gives us different ways to unmask a liar. The first is to watch body language. Truthful people will face you head on but liars are likely to lack frontal alignment. They often sit with their arms and legs crossed as if frozen. Secondly, watch out for imprecise pronouns. Deceptive people often pepper tales with second- and third-person pronouns like “you,” “we” and “they.”. Also, people telling the truth are likely to use their hands more. Watch out for shifty eyes, higher vocal pitch, flushed face and heavier breathing. Liars are also more likely to give evasive answers and ask you to repeat questions. They’re more likely to lie on the phone than online or face to face. They don’t give many specifics. When people lie, gaps between words are longer. Watch out for pregnant pauses. They also tend to be more defensive, guarded and less cooperative. People who tell the truth use facial muscles. Liars just smile with their mouths. Their eyes don’t reflect their emotions. There are many more clues.

Have you had to deal with liars at work? How did you handle it?

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