Lies come in all shapes, sizes and colors. (Ever heard of flat-out, teensy or white lies?) The effect that lies have on their recipients is as varied as individuals can be. For the liar, stress is most assuredly the minimum result. In this article, we' ll focus on the "innocent, everyday lies" people tell, rather than a more serious pathology of lying that requires professional psychological intervention.
What' s striking are the reasons why people continuously lie (or choose not to speak truthfully) - especially when there are communication tools that allow each of to us be skillfully honest and respectful.
Some of the reasons people choose to lie include the desire to:
- Avoid conflict,
- Avoid someone else' s anger or hurt,
- Avoid hurting someone' s feelings,
- Diminish someone else or make them feel bad,
- Feel more worthy of admiration and respect,
- Gain power,
- Avoid having to face an unpleasant truth about themselves,
- Avoid admitting mistakes, and
- Keep "the boat from rocking", hoping everything will pass over, unnoticed.
Interestingly, it' s possible that the intention behind telling a lie might on occasion be well-meaning, although often ego or self-centeredness are at the root. Regardless, it' s how the intention is executed that' s unacceptable, or that results in a strained relationship and a high-stress mindset.
Can you be skillfully honest in these situations? Often times, yes, and yet it takes work and continual, deliberate practice. We suggest the following exercises and approaches to help break any pattern of avoiding the truth that you have established, allowing you to opt for respectful, authentic communication.
When a person lies, it' s a decision that he or she has made as to how the situation should be handled; assuming that a person is not mentally ill, lying is a choice often made out of a lack of skillfulness. If you haven' t already, recognize the power - and result - of this self-will and these choices.
For people who have created a habit of lying, the first course of action toward skillful honesty is to shift your mindset. Lying is often a "survival mode" created in childhood or early life, so requires the care, gentleness and perseverance needed to deconstruct a destructive habit and replace it with a healthier, more skillful one.
Understand when and why you lie
Use your knowledge to fend off poor decision-making
Fully examine and assess your answers to the above questions. Once your motivation for lying is unearthed, you' ll be better equipped to recognize your tendencies when they appears and to tackle inclinations to lie.
Explore all options before acting or reacting
Lying can be the product of a snap-decision, made in haste without thoughtful consideration. When you sense yourself crafting a lie, take a pause. Ask your "audience" if you might take a moment to consider the issue or question at hand, if you need time to collect your thoughts. During this thinking time, review the question or comment, your motivations and intentions.
Center your mindset by recalling an quote or a person who inspires you to be authentic and respectful. (It' s helpful to have already cultivated a "toolbox" of such inspirational tidbits and coping strategies before you need it.)
Honestly ask yourself, "What' s the worst that can happen if I tell the truth - realistically?"
These grounding techniques give you the opportunity to make a wiser choice in responding and build your confidence for doing so.
One of the priceless facets of skillful mindset-management and communication is that there are practical tools that you can use in a variety of settings to enhance your capabilities. Put these possibilities, phrases and concepts in your communication toolbox for use when you' re feeling the tug of a lie taking over because you fear the effect that your comments might have.
Consider that you may be the one creating the situation or perceiving something different from the reality. While it' s more comfortable in the short-term to assume that an issue is always someone else' s fault, that' s not always the case. Sometimes our own over-sensitivity, failure to listen skillfully, preconcieved notions, etc. skew our perception or understanding of a situation. If you feel that discussion will help create mutual understanding, try approaching the conversation with such phrases as:
"I might not say this perfectly the first time around, so bear with me? "
"My perception of the situation is? Is that yours?"
"I may be off-base in this assumption, but I feel I have to share that? "
Acknowledge the other person' s feelings, i.e., "I perceive that you' re angry about? " Then, explain your position or perspective, and how you came to that perception. Offer solutions or suggested next steps, if applicable.
Acknowledge your feelings and how they are manifesting themselves, i.e., "I' m disappointed to hear that X won' t be completed on time, and you might hear that disappointment in my voice tone." Then express you desired intention and result: "What I' d like for us to do is map a plan to ensure? "
Firmly delineate what you know as fact, and where you are making inferences or assumptions. Without this clarity, you might be more apt slip into the gray area of phrases including words such as "maybe" and "I guess so", which quickly lead to untruths and misconceptions.
Blocking off the mental path that leads to lying requires continual practice. And, when confronted with a high-stress, high-stakes moment, barriers can fall in an instant, and you' re relying on old habits to build new relationships. Take the tips to heart - and action - to maintain a healthy, authentic, respectful communication approach:
Nourish Calm - Again, stocking the toolbox with coping strategies improves the odds that your foray into skillful truthfulness will be effective and better-received. It' s much easier to be skillful when you' re calm and centered, in contrast to your choices and results when you' re stressed, angry or rushed. Whether you borrow calming strategies from your favorite professional athletes or an inspiring spiritual leader or wisdom teacher, your toolbox will be richer and your efforts more effective if you' re practicing "calm."
Recognize the role of "the mirror" - Other people might respond negatively as a reflection of the way you routinely present your version of "the truth." Or they might have reason to be disappointed, frustrated or angry, as might be the case if you' ve not upheld your end of an agreement, and you have to learn to maturely sit with them through that discomfort. Too often, we see the flaws and misteps of others without considering that perhaps it' s our approach or perspective in some situations that is flawed. The good news? A look in the mirror can be the first step to greater skillfulness, because you can' t refine what you don' t acknowledge.
Plan - Time management is a key element of a calm mindset. When you know what' s expected of you and when, you' re better able to plan for and address every need. Seeing a project in its entirety, for example, allows you to ask better questions upfront, avoiding miscommunications, assumptions - and lies - later on.
Be comfortable apologizing - How often do you lie simply to avoid saying "I made a mistake," or "I misunderstood," or "I' m sorry, I dropped the ball on that?" When you' ve made a mistake, take a deep breath and admit, apologizing for your actions or behaviors. Not only will it lift any looming sense of guilt and stress, the apology will help repair any damage done. Also, your admission and apology are two signs of strength in character and spirit, as will be your effort to incorporate your new lesson into future behavior (so your apologies don' t become yet another dishonest manipulation tool ? yet another type of lie).
Collect inspirational sources - History is loaded with people and quotations that can serve as motivational tools on a daily basis. Use these and any other sources to refuel your mindset for skillful honesty. Without this fuel, you' ll quickly erode your skills and default back into the unhealthy approaches you were using.
Concentrate on what' s most important to you - Focus on the way you want to operate and your ideal vision of yourself. This vision will guide you towards right action and behaviors, and will motivate you to maintain the mindset required to achieve it.
Jamie Walters is the founder and Chief Vision & Strategy Officer at Ivy Sea, Inc. in San Francisco, CA.
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