3 reasons why leaders need to stop lying at work

lying at work

Lying at work. We’ve all done it, and I’ve noticed that it is a fairly common event. Here are some of the lies I have heard spoken throughout my career.

Yes, we will hit the deadline.

We have already started working on it.

Yes, we have people available who can do this.

We have done this many times before, we know what we’re doing.

Yes, I can do that today.

The project status is “Green”.

It’s all a game you see. Lying at work gets people off your back so that you can enjoy your weekend. You’ll deal with the consequences later on.

The source of lying at work is a lack of trust. People don’t trust that if they tell the truth, they will be supported or respected. Instead, they feel they need to modify their answers to keep the peace, at least for a short while. In many cases this is because leaders manage through fear.

Don’t people get sick of lying all the time? There is something to be said for transparency and honesty. The truth will set you free.

Why lying at work is so common

Dishonesty rules the workplace because people are sick of being given a hard time. Why didn’t you get that report done? What’s taking you so long? Why did you lose that business?

A short-term, easy fix to get your manager off your back is simply to give them the “correct” answer. You are under pressure from your boss. Your boss is under pressure from theirs, and on it goes, until you reach the very top of your company where pressure comes from shareholders or customers.

Nobody wants to be the one to break the chain, because that would cause them to bear the blame of all those above them. Giving the “correct” answer every time is the easy way out, to buy yourself some time.

Many workplaces operate behind a screen of bullshit, quite frankly. Everyone wants to pretend that they are the experts of this and that. Many times the reality is that they’re working it out as they go along. Leaders who fall into a pattern of lying at work are in for trouble in the long run.

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Avoid lying at work and be free

Are you sick of sugar coating your responses so that you don’t upset anybody? Is it getting on your nerves, wearing you down? How about you try something different, like the truth?

Repeat after me:

  • No, we can’t hit that deadline because there have been some issues
  • Nobody is currently available to work on this
  • No, I am unable to do that today. Tomorrow I should have more time to work on it.

Feels good, right? But it takes courage and it requires you to have a strong sense of self-worth. Leaders need to understand that lying at work creates more problems than it solves.

1. Stop lying at work to resolve problems faster

Giving unfavourable responses is uncomfortable. Having an uncomfortable conversation now is better than having an uncomfortable conversation the day before something is meant to have been done.

Get it out of the way early and you can develop an alternative plan. Leave it until the last minute and you’re sunk.

2. Stop lying at work, to reduce pressure on your team

There is nothing worse than a leader who is unable to push back on people. They agree to more and more work, saying “yes” to everything. When leaders do this, it’s their team that suffers, because they are too scared to say no.

Would you rather have a happy boss with an unhappy team working for you? Or an unhappy boss with a team that respects you? Neither are perfect. But it’s pretty obvious that eventually, your happy boss will begin to feel unhappy when you don’t deliver something because your team hates you.

3. Stop lying at work to push back on unreasonable demands

A customer comes to you and says you need to do something, “urgently”. They haven’t told you this before. This is the first you’ve heard of it and it isn’t an unexpected major emergency, either.

If you take the path of least resistance and agree to this request, you’re going to have to change what you and your team are working on. It will take you time to switch from what you’re doing and start something else. Then you’ll have to reschedule the other work and tell other people what’s happening. You might choose to lie to them, too, and pretend you’re still working on their project at the same time.

Or – you could say “no”. Sorry, we can’t shift things around that quickly. You’ll need to wait until tomorrow, or next week, or next month. I’ve done this recently with an aggressive stakeholder and was a little surprised by the result. I explained my reasons for refusal and they said “OK, I wasn’t aware of that”.

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Sometimes people want you to tell them no, because it means you understand your priorities and have boundaries and standards. Caving in to every demand from a disgruntled stakeholder is a recipe for disaster because it sets a nasty precedent. Every time they get angry, you will be there to respond and soothe them.

To stop lying at work, you need high self-esteem

Deciding to be honest in this world is not for the faint-hearted. It is also not for those that are scared of losing their job.

You can read more about why high self-esteem is critical for leaders. It means knowing that you’re good at what you do. High self-esteem means not fearing that you’ll lose your job for doing the right thing. It means being aware of the possible consequences and accepting them. It means having the confidence that you’ll find another job, because you’re worth it.

High self-esteem means respecting yourself enough that you will refuse to accept situations where people try to force you to do things you know aren’t right.

Sometimes, you may decide that it is not worth being honest because of the trouble it would cause. This is OK as long as you consciously think about the consequences, rather than lying instinctively out of habit.

Stop lying at work and let the truth set you free.

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