A culture of honesty would increase trust, shorten sales cycles, reduce risk, and ultimately boost profits.
Mark Twain famously said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” However, the benefit of a guilt-free conscious and a crystal-clear mind appears not to be a strong enough incentive to deter lying, especially in the workplace.
The pandemic of lying does not just refer to high-profile cases, such as Bill Clinton’s affair, Lance Armstrong’s denial of doping, and Bernie Madoff’s financial deceit. Workplace lying is a far more widespread issue and it is taking place in offices around the world. There is a steady undercurrent of dishonesty, “white lies,” cheating, and bending the rules, and it’s time we pull the rug out and expose three simple truths about lying.
1) You lie at work—so does everyone else. Most of us are willing to confess to it. According to a survey by psychotherapist and consultant Dr. Brad Blanton, 93% of respondents out of forty thousand Americans admitted to lying “regularly and habitually in the workplace.” Personally, I believe the other 7% are lying to themselves—and they probably believe it!
Another study found a small sample size of 14 lawyers who believe that low-level deception is part of the negotiation “game” and are comfortable having minimal knowledge of the ethical rules. Supporting this claim, a survey of lawyers at an ABA Annual Meeting found that 73% admitted to engaging in “settlement puffery.” While the path of lies and deceit starts small, it quickly becomes an endless spiral that can destroy professional reputations.
2) You lie far more often than you think. Research by Dr. Paul Ekman, a renowned American psychologist and the author of Telling Lies, shows that people lie an average of three times per 10-minute conversation. Social psychologist and professor Dr. Bella DePaulo conducted a study based on 77 college students and 70 members from the surrounding community. She found that the people from the community lied once in every five conversations and the college students lied once in every three interactions. Other research shows we’re more truthful at home than we are at work.
We lie often and for many different reasons. Whether it’s to avoid an awkward social situation (“That shirt looks great”), to escape blame (“I never received the email”), or to satisfy our personal agenda (“I can’t talk right now, I have a huge deadline”), our minds attempt to excuse lies with reasoning. As we become better at creating false justifications, we blur the lines between right and wrong and allow lies to become a regular aspect of everyday life.
3) The little lies come with BIG consequences. Dan Ariely, a professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, has persuasively shown that cheating is much more widespread—and infectious—than we commonly believe.
An anecdote that Ariely shared in a Wall Street Journal article quotes a locksmith who quips that “One percent of people will always be honest and never steal. Another 1% will always be dishonest and always try to pick your lock and steal your television… The purpose of locks is to protect you from the 98% of mostly honest people who might be tempted to try your door if it had no lock.” The locksmith is right.
In his studies, which entice people to cheat for potential financial gain, Ariely claims that he lost hundreds of dollars to the few big cheaters in the experiments—but lost thousands to the many little cheaters. The picture that emerges from these studies is that it is not merely the lies of Madoff-like characters that damage the global economy—it is rather the countless small dishonest acts that 98% of us commit. As long as we can convince ourselves that we are basically truthful, we will continue to commit little infractions here and there. These lies influence and reinforce others’ bad behavior and build a cycle of corruption. Fortunately, honesty has the opposite impact.
Some may say this is idealistic, but if every workplace was led by individuals who were adamant on creating a policy of total honesty, we could strengthen the overall levels of fair-dealing in the world. A culture of honesty would increase trust, shorten sales cycles, reduce risk, and ultimately boost profits. Let’s be candid—making a commitment to telling the truth isn’t just good for a guilt-free mind. It’s a profitable business practice that will separate you from all the other liars!
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