#sowhoknew: Is telling lies at work acceptable?
“How are you? …Yeah, I’m good thanks and you?…. I’m great but really busy… Yep me too I’m absolutely snowed under.” Sounds familiar right? Why is it that whenever a work colleague asks you how you are (which they probably don’t care about anyway), despite how we really feel (tired, morose, vexed etc.) we simply say we are fine. Oh and always add that you are super stacked. God forbid you would ever tell the truth that you don’t feel so good and are having a slow day.
So why do we feel compelled to tell fibs to our colleagues? Well, research suggests that we tell ‘porky pies’ for a variety of complex reasons. Sometimes we fabricate to defend our reputation, or maybe to avoid conflict and occasionally to simply protect other people’s feelings.
In a study by Oxford University, psychology boffin Robin Dunbar discovered that so-called ‘white lies’ (or what he calls ‘pro-social’ lying) can actually help to strengthen bonds within the office environment. His study claimed that subjects who regularly told white lies tended to form much stronger links within their social networks. On the flip side, those people who told ‘anti-social’ lies (basically the ones that covered their ass at the expense of others) became more isolated from their social group.
So it begs the question that if being a liar helps us develop significantly more robust bonds with our office counterparts, does it make telling those untruths more acceptable? The common convention is that telling lies is a fundamental betrayal of trust which, in itself, is a core pillar of any team dynamic. I think that its fair to say that if you discovered a colleague had lied to you it would inevitably shake that bond of trust and it would most likely damage your relationship with them, possibly beyond repair.
Maybe it’s a simple case of where you draw the line. Well, I say ‘simple’ but is it? The problem is that the boundaries are, at best, blurred. For instance, how do you distinguish telling a lie from being, shall we say ‘economical with the truth’? An example? If your work mate shows you their presentation and you wax lyrical about how wonderful it is, even though you think it’s rubbish, is that okay? If a work buddy arrives at work wearing a hideous outfit which they think is the height of good taste, do you let them know that you think they should call the fashion police? In a nutshell, if the lies you are espousing are not devised to be deceitful or to elicit personal gain, does that make them acceptable?
Let’s face it, we all falsify from time to time. I got stuck in traffic. I didn’t get that email. The dog ate my laptop. According to David Shulman, associate professor at Lafayette College and author of From Hire to Liar: The Role of Deception in the Workplace inexactitude acts as a facilitator to harmony in the office, “Most workplace lies aren’t actually antibusiness. They’re really in the interest of getting the job done.”
Two books (You Can’t Lie to Me by Janine Driver and The Truth About Lies in the Workplace by Carol Kinsey Goman) both conclude that the truth will not set you free in the office. For example, Goman postulates that it is perfectly fine to feign an injury when the office is partaking in some form of physical activity (warning – always remember which leg you have meant to have broken when hobbling around the office for the next few weeks). Goman also states that when departing a company, if you are leaving because you detest your boss, there is no place for candour. Apparently you should say that you want to explore your “personal growth”. Sounds to me like when you are breaking up with a partner and they say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Also, total bulls**t.
It also seems that liars are far less stressed than their more straight-talking compatriots. A Drexel University study found that workers who sucked up to their bosses and colleagues with a little ‘cock & bull’ displayed significantly less anxiety than their more honest work pals. Or is it just because sociopaths really don’t care what people think about them and excel in the skill of being able to say what people want to hear?
So there you have it, conclusive proof that being dishonest pays dividends. Or does it? Although I understand the logic (and as culpable as anyone) somehow I find it difficult to accept that lying is considered a virtue. What do you think? And what lies have you told at the office? Which ones worked? And, more interestingly, which ones didn’t? If I get some decent responses (and if anyone is remotely interested!) I will share my biggest yarn at work, how I got away with it for over 15 years and why I eventually came clean…