26 September 2023

Big little lies: Why truth is often the first casualty at work

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Lyndsey Reid* says everyone is guilty of occasionally telling lies at work and a workplace expert reveals the most common white lies bosses hear.

Photo: Kristina Flour

You’re a liar. I’m a liar.

“Lying in the office is a pandemic,” Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job, told Business Insider.

“Especially if you consider the amount of tiny white lies circulating in the daily course of business.”

According to a University of Massachusetts study conducted by psychologist Robert Feldman, most of us lie two to three times every 10 minutes.

Buy why are we lying?

“We bend the truth to make life easier,” Taylor explained.

“In many cases, we rationalise them as protecting others, thinking ‘it will keep the peace’ or ‘it’s something everyone does’.”

“But mostly lies are told because they’re convenient and often a cover up,” she said.

It can be hard to detect if someone is lying to you, especially because face-to-face meetings are increasingly rare.

But according to Taylor, even that’s no guarantee of lie detection.

“The most difficult lies to detect are lies of omission.”

“They’re usually discovered much later.”

“The typical conversation would go something like, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Followed by, “I assumed that …”

The more egregious garden variety of lies include “massive” and “destructive” lies.

A massive lie, for example, is promising an employee a promotion or salary increase and later going back on your word.

A destructive lie is spreading malicious gossip about a coworker.

But most lying in the office is not egregious, and tends to fall in the white lie category.

If you’re concerned a coworker is lying to you, Taylor suggests treading carefully.

In her book, she recommends allowing people the opportunity to save face without going on the attack: “Get them to clarify their position,” she writes.

“Ask them, ‘Did you mean X or Y?’”

If they’re a repeat offender, discuss it diplomatically, and be friendly with the stated goal of improving the relationship.

Taylor also suggests considering how serious the deception is: “Is the confrontation worth winning a battle and potentially losing a war?”

“You don’t want to ignore lies, as that will create unwarranted stress for you, but you don’t want to hammer people with questions, either.”

To help you identify when you’re being lied to, we asked Taylor to share some of the most common white lies people tell in the office:

‘That wasn’t my fault.’

Taylor says this cover up is perhaps the most common of deceptions.

Some people will do just about anything to deflect responsibility, including blaming others or even inanimate objects like a computer.

‘I have to leave work early for a [fill in the blank] appointment.’

This is a common white lie almost everyone has relied on at some point in their work lives to handle something personal, says Taylor.

But to be fair about “truth in excuses,” most managers won’t delve into your private life if you abide by their employment policies, so it’s a common default.

‘It’s my first priority.’

This is a charming statement and music to any boss’s ears.

Thus, its wide popularity.

Of course, most employees have assigned the project as one of several priorities, but according to Taylor, it’s told because it bides time and sounds great.

‘The account is looking good.’

According to Taylor, it’s common to find those who brag or engage in a little hyperbole to keep things pleasant for the time being.

It might keep their manager jovial, at least for a few hours.

But they may be playing a high-stakes game that the account really will come in or grow.

‘That was my idea!’

There are always glory hogs in the office notorious for taking credit for others’ work (unless the work has had bad reviews), says Taylor.

‘I need it yesterday.’

Everyone has heard those who “cry wolf” about emergencies, only to witness the “hurry up and wait” syndrome.

When everything is urgent, credibility is lost over time and project urgency can quickly seem a sham, Taylor said.

‘I can have it done tomorrow!’

In the zeal to get things done, people can overpromise.

Better to overdeliver, recommends Taylor.

* Lyndsey Reid is a contributing writer for Business Insider.

This article first appeared at www.businessinsider.com.au.

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