It starts when we are very young. The chant from childhood: "Who took the cookies from the cookie jar?" and the refrain: "Not me."
It's the little toddler with chocolate smeared from ear to ear saying "I didn't eat any candy." Or the third grader with bright red nails that now decorates the beige living room carpet who says "What nail polish?"
Maybe it's the high schooler who tells his parents he had a B on his term paper that he has not even turned into his teacher.
Did you ever lie? If you are alive and breathing, the answer is "Of course!"
Why do we do it? Why do we twist the truth and turn a blind eye to others who do so?
There are various shades of gray in lying from catching a fish that gets bigger and bigger with each telling, to some of the famous liars of the day sitting in jail like Bernard Madoff, whose charm won over smart folks like Steven Spielberg and Elie Wiesel with his Ponzi Scheme.
Is it lying to over-promise and under-deliver?
Or like disgraced Olympic swimmer Brian Lochte who fabricated a robbery to save his butt after a night of heavy drinking in Rio. Did he over-exaggerate (small fish becomes a big fish) or just out-right lie hoping to save his butt? We all know he plain out lied.
Here are the five most common types of liars out there. I guarantee, you and I fit the mold of at least one. The only way to real psychological health is first to admit to your pattern and then have the courage to do something about it.
Let's start with the biggest liars and move down the scale:
- Sociopaths: One lie begets another lie. There is a belief that what you are saying is true. If you are a sociopath you are most likely charming and charismatic and have a great command of communication. You fawn over others and seduce them with your plans and possibilities that will make, not just you, all who connect with you become rich and famous. However, the lies are self-centered and manipulative. Once someone suspects you, you move on fast to new prey and discount those who challenge you. You must prove you are the best!
- Habitual liars: You lie because you are afraid of the wrath of others. "I didn't do it; I wasn't there; You never told me; I wasn't included," are the words of a fear based compulsive liar. This is often the result of being abused, physically or verbally as a child. Lying is a protective method to keep yourself safe and help you survive.
- Sporadic liars: You are up front and honest most of the time. However, on occasion the situation is, well, sticky, and rather than suffer the embarrassment of fessing up you simply side step the truth. You know you lied and need to make a case for the reason it was important to ignore the truth. Yet, guilt and conscience often make you own up to your uncomfortable deception. Lying is to save face. You only do it "once in a while." Keep doing it and sooner or later you'll enter the ranks of the sociopath.
- Sloppy liars: You want to be accepted, part of the inner circle and so you embellish, point fingers without evidence, make up statistics and never check your sources. You are a great story teller and love it when all eyes are upon you. However, there is always too much to remember and eventually you trip and fall.
- White liars: You see the lies as harmless, and maybe even helpful. Telling the fat gal she looks great in her dress while inside you feel like gagging. You are furious with your boss and yet tell him all is good between you. You want to shield others from being hurt so you sugar coat your remarks. Your credo is "do no harm" and yet, often you end up leaving lots of debris when you walk the other way.
Little lies often turn into big lies and I believe our society is addicted to not just telling lies, but addicted to believing them.
The first thing to do is admit which type of liar you really are. This is the way OUT: First to Observe, then to Understand why you really do what you do and finally to TRANSFORM what is in the way of real transparency and speaking the truth.
To be a great leader, one who has staying power, lean into the truth. It will gain your employees trust and that is invaluable.