Lying is a fascinating psychological enigma. When I looked over the research about why people lie, it typically boils down to two reasons:

  • Sometimes people lie because of something that's really about them;
  • Other times, they lie because there is something about you that tempts them to do it.

Don't take that last point personally. Your colleagues may lie because of your very best qualities as well. But truth be told, it's your worst qualities that will trigger the most lies in others.

In Yudhijit Bhattacharjee's terrific National Geographic article, "Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways," he said something very thought-provoking:

Lying, it turns out, is something that most of us are very adept at. We lie with ease, in ways big and small, to strangers, co-workers, friends, and loved ones. Our capacity for dishonesty is as fundamental to us as our need to trust others, which ironically makes us terrible at detecting lies. Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human.

So if to lie is human, you can bet it's happening frequently in your workplace or business. To counter the problem of deception and lying, being aware of the reasons people do it brings you that much closer to protecting yourself against the effects of lying.

5 Reasons People Lie

While there are many more reasons listed in the literature, these are some reasons that may disrupt the workplace, diminish productivity, and cause serious trust issues between peers and co-workers.

1. People lie to self-protect.

This defensive tactic is usually the most common reason your co-workers will lie. When someone is faced with the possibility of a real or perceived consequence for bad behavior, they'll "batten down the hatches" and defend themselves against a threat. There are some who lie to protect others and take on blame for things they are not responsible for in an effort to bail someone out.

2. People lie to cause harm.

Beware of co-workers or bosses that have crossed the line into incivility and are now intentionally vindictive. Unfortunately, it happens when someone feels harmed by another. Rather than have positive coping mechanisms to deal with their anger and frustration, they lie and lie again as a way to get back at another person. If this person has reached abusive stage, they will consistently lie in order to manipulate the other person.

3. People lie because they feel superior.

There are people in your office right now that may be lying because their have a superiority complex they need to protect.  Because of their larger than life ego, they lie to make themselves look better than others. Sometimes they lie because they have a need for controlling others or their behaviors. A co-worker or boss may lie also about their status, accomplishments, work history, or direction in life as a means to try and impress their peers. Lastly, they may at times lie just to get attention.

4. People lie to procrastinate.

We've all suffered from it in one form or another. It basically happens when we put off things that we should be focusing on at the moment in favor of doing something else we're more comfortable, or would rather be, doing. That's when you'll catch people lying to passive-aggressively avoid responsibilities. This lie is also more subtle and may go undetected. Watch for co-workers that know they should be doing something but are intentionally putting it off. They may be lying because it's easier to procrastinate.

5. People lie to cover up bad behavior.

In an effort to cover up a problem and suppress the truth, a person will intentionally lie as a way of minimizing the damage that may otherwise happen if they came out with the full truth. For example, remember what American swimmer Ryan Lochte did during the 2016 Summer Olympics? He claimed to have been robbed at gunpoint at a gas station in Rio de Janeiro when, in fact, he and his teammates had been confronted by armed security guards after damaging property because they were silly-drunk after a party.