So many people stretch the truth these days. They exaggerate sales, capability, even past performance. They don't mean to lie. In fact, often they believe every bit of what they claim. They seem to get away with it because few are willing to take the time to fact check what's being said. And many have just come to cynically accept the notion that you can't believe most of what anyone says.

So is there a line between exaggeration and lying? Are people who do either consistently morally reprehensible? These days, you can't stop aggressive promoters and marketers from stretching the truth. They border on misrepresentation when doing battle with competitors. At the same time, they struggle because the competitors may be flat out lying, making it near impossible to compete. It's tough to keep a moral compass and survive.

But I do. I have never felt comfortable lying or stretching the truth. So I do my best to stick to the truth to a fault. It's not all moralistic for me--lying or even exaggerating is hard. You have to remember what you said. I don't even lie well. I'm not saying I have never exaggerated, but when I do it gnaws at me, makes me feel uncomfortable down to my bones. When push comes to shove, I would rather experience the sinking feeling of losing an opportunity by telling the truth than the sick feeling I would get from being caught in a lie. At least being a truthful loser doesn't brand me as dishonest and untrustworthy.

Here are additional insights from my Inc. colleagues.

1. Manage expectations.

The difference between a lie and an exaggeration can be tested by the potential impact on the customer. If you tell a customer you have provided a service or done a project that you have never done before, you risk hurting not only your reputation but potentially the customer's business as well.

We took on a project that required us to run 35 customer sessions in one week--or seven sessions a day for five days. The most we had ever done before was six sessions in a day.  We made the decision not to tell the customer that we were in uncharted territory. Over the course of that week, we learned that the quality of our process and the ability to deliver clean results was dramatically affected. The customer was unhappy because we had not warned them ahead of time, and their confidence in the results ultimately affected their ship date. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward

Want to read more from Eric? Click here.

2. Prioritize trust.

It doesn't matter where the line is between exaggeration and lying because either one is a bad idea. Yes, you may lose out in the short term to a competitor who promises more than you do, but if those promises are built on air, sooner or later that relationship will come to grief. And you'll be standing by, ready to offer a more trustworthy alternative. There's a reason why Tom Peters's dictum to "under promise and over deliver" is quoted so often. And why I've heard it from so many of the successful entrepreneurs I've talked with. Minda Zetlin--Start Me Up

Want to read more from Minda? Click here.

3. Don't feed the cynics.

Many marketers subscribe to the notion that you can't properly market and sell a product without layering in some amount of BS. In other words, a little bit of hype and exaggeration is not only OK but necessary to sell a product. As Theodore Levitt put it in a famous Harvard Business Review article, "Selling concerns itself with the tricks and techniques of getting people to exchange their cash for your product. It is not concerned with the values that the exchange is all about."

The buying public figures this is the case and factors it into its buying decisions. According to a recent survey by Lab42, more than 76 percent of consumers believe that advertising claims are exaggerated. Is that weight-loss shake really going to help you lose 100 pounds in a few months? Unlikely. Is that shampoo/makeup/deodorant really going to make you more attractive? Probably not. You don't need to lie to sell your products, but exaggeration is alive and well. Peter Economy--The Management Guy

Want to read more from Peter? Click here.

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