Summary: We have all heard “the truth shall set you free,”; yet, lying is a daily occurrence. Read on to see which pattern, from fibs to fraud, fits your personality and, more importantly, what to do about it.
Dear Dr. Sylvia,
I don’t know who to believe anymore. When I ask my direct reports about various situations that fell through the cracks, they stare at me with the deer in the headlights.
Mostly they say things like, “I have no idea how that happened; I was on PTO (paid time off),” or they say, “That specific issue was part of what Jim, Joan, or Jack was working on, ask him or her.”
The core of lying is based on the fear of retribution.
Why is it so hard for people to own situations that are a mess? What happens to people who need to hide their part in a rough case buried deep down?
How can I ask the questions to get accountable answers, not just bull and baloney?
Thanks for helping.
Dear Truth Seeker,
Fear of telling the truth gets in the way of telling the truth.
We learn to protect ourselves from punishment when we are very young.
It starts when we are very young. Do you remember the chant from childhood: “Who took the cookies from the cookie jar?” and the refrain: “Not me.”
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 class.
Lying is universal and comes in all shapes and sizes.
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 retelling of the fish tale to some famous liars 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 exaggerate (small fish becomes a big fish) or out-right lie, hoping to save his butt? We all know he plain out lied.
The only way to natural psychological health is to admit to your pattern and then have the courage to do something about it. We all fit at least one pattern below; I guarantee you that I fit the mold of at least one. Here are the five most common types of liars out there.
Let’s start with the biggest liars and move down the scale:
We each have a specific way that lying has been helpful at some time in life.
- 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 an excellent command of communication. However, the lies are self-centered and manipulative. You fawn over others and seduce them with your plans and possibilities that will make not just you but all who connect with you will become rich and famous. You must prove you are the best! Once someone suspects you, you move on to new prey and discount those who challenge you.
- 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,” and “I wasn’t included” are the words of a fear-based compulsive liar. This is often due to being abused, physically or verbally, as a child. Lying is a protective method to keep yourself safe and help you survive.
Some ways of lying have more significant repercussions than others.
- Sporadic liars: You are upfront and honestly most of the time. However, on occasion, the situation is sticky, and rather than suffer the embarrassment of fessing up, you sidestep the truth. You know you lied and need to make a case because it was necessary to ignore the reality. 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, so you embellish, point fingers without evidence, makeup statistics, and never check your sources. You are a great storyteller 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 or helpful. Telling the fat gal she looks great in her dress while you feel like gagging inside. You are furious with your boss and tell him everything is good between you. You want to shield others from being hurt, so you sugarcoat your remarks. Your philosophy is “do no harm,” yet you often leave lots of debris when you walk the other way.
Little lies often turn into big lies
Therefore, I believe our society is addicted to not just telling lies; we have become addicted to accepting them.
The first thing to do is admit which type of liar you are. Then go for absolute transparency and speak the truth. This step helps you find the way OUT: First, OBSERVE and then, Understand why you do what you do, and finally, TRANSFORM what no longer works.
Admit when you screwed up. That gives others the sense it is okay to speak out and be vulnerable.
Ask open-ended questions to help others get beyond the simple truth and dig down to why it is so difficult to speak out.
Here are some questions to ask yourself first and others after.
Adult lying depends on who responded to your lies as a child.
What happened to you as a kid when you told the truth. Who listened? How were you punished or perhaps applauded for telling the truth?
If you were the one who took the cookies from the cookie jar, say so! In the long run, it will work in your favor. Even if you were sent to your room or got a whack across your behind, so what.
I can guarantee that sooner or later, you will be acknowledged as a truth-teller and gain respect.
It’s not easy in our culture to lie. However, we need more people who say, “It will stop with me (the lying, that is).”
To be a great leader, one with staying power, lean into the truth. It will gain your employees’ trust, which is invaluable.
Just one more thing, please remember that children are watching and listening. They will model your behavior.
Let’s let the truth be a guiding light.
Here’s to your success,
P.S. Please consider reading my award-winning book Don’t Bring It To Work to Work to understand the power of truth and how to communicate it effectively.