Is it ever OK to lie at work?

In a recent poll we conducted on Twitter, we asked exactly this and 70 percent of respondents said yes. It made me wonder about the other 30 percent. Never lied? Really?

The truth is, we all tell lies. Some lies are more "good" than bad. As in, "Honey, you look terrific in that dress" to spare someone's feelings. The measure of a "good" lie is how damaging would it be if the recipient heard the truth. Do people really want to know their haircut looks awful? Maybe not.

Other lies should never happen, and we know those circumstances pretty clearly. This entire presidential campaign has been about who has told more lies. The American people are left not so much with the candidate they trust, but the candidate they feel has told less-damaging lies. The one who seems "truthier" wins.



So how do you know if someone is telling the truth? Experts have all sorts of ways to tell--in fact, this TED Talk on spotting a liar is one of the most-watched--but one of my favorite tips comes from this article I came across recently on the American Management Association's website.

Executive coach Carol Kinsey Goman says there are 20 verbal cues you can watch for to see if someone is lying to you. Below I list my favorite five.

1. When people speak the literal truth, they're lying. In other words, when someone says, "I am sorry my statement offended you," they're actually not sorry. They're truthfully sorry that their statement offended you, but not that they offended you. See the difference?

2. Using too many words. People who use 10 times more words to say something simple are usually lying. Watch for elaborate details of very mundane events or situations. People who lie are making things up and therefore, as Goman says, have a "high cognitive load" in their brain that makes them overtalk.

3. Quasi-denials. Goman points out that these answers don't directly answer questions but sound like they do. Let's say you ask someone if he stole an item from the office. If he's lying, his answer may be: "Do I look like someone who would do that?" A more truthful answer is simply "No."

4. Qualifiers, disclaimers, modifiers. You know them quite well. They're annoying phrases like "as far as I know" or "to the best of my knowledge" or "you won't believe this, but ... "





5. Softeners. This one is so prevalent in the office. When people don't want to tell the truth, they use "softening" words to blunt the impact of what they're trying to say. So rather than say "he cheated on this," someone might tone it down to "he made a mistake" or "he mistakenly did this."

While it's nearly impossible that people will always speak the truth at work, there are times when lying is downright inappropriate and unacceptable. One case is when you're about to fire someone. As Jack Welch notes in this video, hiding behind distancing language such as "my boss wants me to fire you" is cowardly and Bad Management 101. Watch for more of what he and the other CEOs say you should never do when letting someone go.

So next time you think someone is lying to you, open your eyes.

Published on: Oct 14, 2016
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