Posted By admin on November 19, 2013
Audiences are often startled into silence when I ask them which workplace liars they are most grateful for. But after a little encouragement and few minutes reflection, they begin to come up with some interesting answers:
I like liars who say, “That’s a nice jacket” and don’t mention of the ten pounds I’ve gained. What’s that – a lie of omission?
I’m grateful for co-workers who ask me how my project is going, even if they’re just being polite.
My team leader tells us what a great job we’re doing. We all know it’s not the truth, but we try to live up to her expectations.
So how about you? Which liars — and lies — make your business interactions more pleasant, energizing, friendly? Before I talk about dealing with liars, it’s good to remember that not all liars need to be “dealt with.” Some, in fact, should be thanked.
But as you already know, not all liars are benevolent. Some spread malicious gossip that can damage reputations and derail careers, some take undue credit and kill team morale, and some lie about behaving unethically or illegally and negatively impact the entire organization.
So — how do you deal with those liars?
The honest answer is, I don’t know.
As much as I’d like to offer you a one-size-fits-all formula for dealing with liars, I can’t. I don’t know the “right answer” for your situation, because it depends on how you evaluate a variety of factors. From “The Truth About Lies in the Workplace,” here are six key questions to consider when developing your own strategy:
#1 – Who’s the liar? Liars may work with you, report to you, or hold hierarchical power over you. You may be interviewing a liar, negotiating with one, or working with one on the same team. You and the liar may be professional rivals, good friends – or both. Each of these business relationships brings its own level of intimacy, authority and responsibility that may influence how you decide to proceed.
#2 – What is the impact of the lie? Is the lie causing rework or harming the outcome of a project? Is the lie destroying team spirit and collaboration? Is it costing the organization money? Is it damaging the reputation of the company? Is it hurting your (or someone else’s) professional reputation? Could the lie get the wrong person hired – or fired? Or is the lie simply annoying?
#3 – What is the liar’s standing in the organization? Liars may be popular, successful, powerful, and well connected in the organization’s hierarchy. Or they may be disliked and distrusted. If it came to a “your word against theirs” situation (which, by the way, you should always try to avoid – so remember to document your case) who would most likely be believed?
#4 – What’s your goal? Do you want the liar to confess, or just to know that you know? Do you want him or her to change behavior, to apologize, to make retribution, or to face punitive action? (And if you achieved that goal, how would it affect your future professional and personal relationship with the liar?) If you are boss, do you want to retain or to fire the liar?
#5 – What’s your motive? Why is this important to you? For example, some people tell me:
No one should have to live with this abuse.
If I come forward, maybe others will do the same.
I’ve always hated that guy, and it just bugs me to have to put up with him!
#6 – What are your choices? You have three choices in dealing with liars: You can confront them (directly challenging the lie or indirectly approaching the topic, you can report them (to your boss or to the human resource department), or you can ignore them and do nothing.
Confronting liars, quickly and directly, gives you the advantage of catching them before they have time to practice (and perfect) the lie. It may also give you a sense of personal satisfaction to expose the liar – especially if it the lie was malicious or destructive.
Example of a direct confrontation: Have you heard of the “higher-authority ploy,” in which your boss blames his or her boss for denying your request? Often it is just an easy way to say “no” without talking personal responsibility. The manager who tells this lie believes you will simply accept the decision of the higher authority. One savvy employee put an end to this subterfuge when she countered, “What specifically did your boss say when you asked about this?” (By the way: Asking any suspected liar what someone else said is a good tactic to remember. Deceivers find it more difficult to make up comments from another person.)
Here’s another strategy that was sent to me in a recent email. It’s a direct approach with a congenial twist: “If I sense that someone is withholding pertinent information, I meet directly with him/her to say that I’m most effective when armed with all the knowledge and information that will help us meet our stated goals. It’s my ‘collaboration card,’ and it works quite well.”
Dealing with a liar presents the challenge of, perhaps, having to maintain a business relationship with the perpetrator. If that is the case, an indirect confrontation might serve you better than a direct accusation. This is most effective when your primary objective is to confirm your suspicions or to simply let the liar know that you know the real story.
Example of an indirect confrontation: Let’s say that a team member lies in a meeting, and you want to give him a way out. You might approach him privately and say: “I didn’t understand what you just said, but I may not have all the information. Could you tell me again what you meant?”
Reporting liars will bring them to the attention of upper management, or in the case of whistleblowers, to the attention of authorities and (sometimes) the press. But be aware that in acting as a whistleblower you will probably not be able to protect your own anonymity. This is why you need to be clear on how destructive this liar is, how well you have documented your case, and how important it is to you to expose him/her. In very serious cases, whistleblowers need to decide if they want to stay with the organization or if they are willing to leave their employer.
With some lies and liars you may choose to do nothing. Regardless of whether you are dealing with the lies of a subordinate, a colleague or your manager, doing nothing, at least initially, gives you the chance to think things over and get your emotions under control. On the other hand, delaying too long also gives the liar more time to continue spreading misinformation or otherwise behaving badly. If you are the manager, it may also appear to others that, by your silence, you are condoning the deception. Still, in some cases you’ll decide that dealing with a particular liar is just not worth the effort. It’s good advice to pick your battles strategically. (It is also crucial to have a strong network of workplace relationships based on mutual trust and support, so you have plenty of colleagues you can go to for missing information or to check out suspicious statements.)
If you decide to ignore the lie, however, it doesn’t mean that the liar is forgiven. That is a separate decision. As one still-annoyed team-member told me about another: “I didn’t do anything, but I didn’t forget about the lie. I will never trust him and I will never help him.”
Like many other aspects of business relationships, dealing effectively with liars in the workplace takes a thoughtful and individualized strategy. That strategy begins with the answers to these six simple, but not-so easy, questions.
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She’s the author of 12 books including “THE SILENT LANGUAGE OF LEADERS: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead” and (her latest) “THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES IN THE WORKPLACE: How to Spot Liars and What to Do About Them.” Contact Carol by phone: 510-526-1727, email: CGoman@CKG.com, or through her website: www.CKG.com.