Lying. We’ve all done it, and I’ve noticed that in the workplace it a fairly common event. Here are some of the lies I have heard spoken throughout my career.
Yes, we will hit the deadline.
Yes, we have already started working on it.
Yes, we have people available who can do this.
Yes, we have done this before.
Yes, I can do that today.
The project status is “green”.
It’s all a game you see. If you tell a lie, it gets people off your back so that you can enjoy your weekend. You’ll deal with the consequences later on.
The source of the lying 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 dishonesty rules the workplace
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 organisation where pressure comes from shareholders or customers.
Nobody wants to be the one to break the chain, because that would likely cause them to bear the wrath 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, but many times the reality is that they’re working it out as they go along. That’s why you get sent a 27 year-old “Senior Manager” when you originally thought you were going to get someone who had years of experience under their belt.
How the truth will set you 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 make 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.
The truth will set you free because it brings discomfort forward
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.
The truth will set you free because it reduces the 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 great. But it’s pretty obvious that eventually, your happy boss will begin to feel unhappy when you don’t deliver something because your team now despises you.
The truth will set you free because you will stop jumping at somebody else’s whim
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 stakeholders what’s happening with this. 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”.
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, that every time they throw their toys out of the pram, you will be there to respond and soothe them.
For the truth to set you free, you need a strong sense of self-worth
Deciding to be honest in this world is not for the faint-hearted. It is also not for those that are petrified of losing their job.
A strong sense of self-worth is critical. It means knowing that you’re good at what you do. It 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. It 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 in a given situation 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.
The truth will set you free, but only if you let it.