Dealing With the Liars

A friend used to tell me, “Everybody lies some of the time.” That may be true, but it certainly does not make it right, and it definitely can get you into trouble at work. It is also difficult enough to get your job done without having to screen interactions for lying and figuring out what is going on. Here are some examples of how lying can play out at work:

Co-workers who obfuscate the truth:

You may be working with someone on a project, and the deadline is coming up. What your co-worker is telling you somehow does not ring true. Why is he lying to you?  He may have procrastinated, not have known how to do some aspect of the project or may even be stalling to make you look bad. Angry confrontation is not going to help the situation. However, a direct reminder of the looming deadline and a frank, non-blaming discussion of the problem may help. For example: “The project deadline is next week, and the data analysis is not yet complete. Which part of the analysis is a problem and how can we help?” may actually make your co-worker less stressed and more inclined to work together with you to complete the project.

When bosses lie:

This can be a particularly tricky situation, as a direct confrontation can get you fired. There are many reasons why bosses might lie: to control or bully you as an employee, lack of trust, fear of losing face or tight control by upper management. Power freaks or bullies are the hardest to deal with. Get everything in writing or email and keep your cool until you can find another job. The boss who tells you he does not want you to lie and then proceeds to lie constantly to you is another problem. You can only keep your side of the interaction honest, and try to figure out why the boss is not being honest. It could be that his hands have been tied by upper management and he has been told to only share information on a need-to-know basis. The boss that says to you, “I will tell you what I can” is another version of this type of boss. They try to save face and keep on friendly terms with you while satisfying their own bosses’ need for control. Again, stay honest and document everything. You never know when you will need documentation to back up your side of the story.

When telling the truth can get you into trouble:

I am a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person.  I do not like to play office politics. So when bosses tells me they do not want their employees to lie to them, I do tell the truth. However, this strategy can backfire if you are not careful. We all would like to think our interactions at work are professional and that honesty should be the best policy. But office interactions are often also loaded with personal preferences, anxieties and prejudices. So if your answer to a boss’ question is negative, rethink it before you say it, especially if you are frustrated or angry. Example: “Do you like this job?” should elicit an answer that examines the positive and negative aspects of the position. If your boss values you as an employee, hopefully, the discussion should bring about ways to eliminate the negative aspects without eliminating you as an employee.


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