To Lie or Not To Lie

2009 July 28
by Kate O'Neill

How could you say no?
Creative Commons License photo credit: kennymatic

A debate has sprung up in the business blogosphere prompted by an article written by Nicole Williams in the Huffington Post called 5 Lies You Should Tell Your Boss.

There are indeed situations in the workplace where not telling the truth is just fine, but you have to know when it’s appropriate. (Oh, and make sure to keep track of all your fibs or you could be out of a job in no time!)

She goes on to list 5 things she’s ” giving you permission to lie about:”

  1. Your worth.
  2. Your future plans.
  3. Your experience.
  4. Your health.
  5. Your tardiness.

In response, Mike Henry Sr. at Lead Change Group posted to his blog, asking What types of relationships start with a lie?.

When someone lies, they do it because of fear. I used to say the only acceptable lies are when someone asks you if they’re pretty or thin. But in reality, my own faults not excepted, there are no acceptable lies because a fear based life makes us selfish and empty. It takes courage to tell the truth and our world needs courage more today than in recent memory.

As we discussed last week, the economy has many people feeling like they’re in a position where they are required to lie. A highly competitive job market coupled with the normal tendencies people have to want to cover up gaps or flaws in their employment history makes for a tempting test of truth.

Obviously, ethics are on the side of honesty. But if that’s not a good enough reason not to lie, there are also practical considerations: if you’re in a small town or a tight-knit community, you can probably expect that even the most trivial exaggeration will be easily verifiable and could ruin your credibility. And let’s face it, your environs need not be that small. While hiring in the densely populated Bay Area, I occasionally encountered resumes from candidates I’d heard cautionary stories about from other hiring managers. Word does get around, and you want your name to be associated with integrity and reliability, not mistrust.

Moreover, when you get to the specifics of what people might lie about, such as your future plans as Ms. Williams suggested, what becomes apparent is that we’re not so much talking about lying as about understanding relevance and context.

In other words, If you’re in a corporate interview for, say, a graphic design position and you’re asked about your future goals, the interviewer is not looking for a treatise on your ambitions in the fine arts; what the interviewer seeks is an understanding of what relevant aspirations you have relative to the job in question. In which case you might answer something about contributing to the successful visual identity of a beloved brand — whatever it is that actually would make the work you’re applying for meaningful to you. It’s not lying to restrict your answers to that scope; it’s merely being specific about the context of your possible responses.

In his post, Mike Henry, Jr. touches on this point, too, when he writes that Ms. Williams’ HuffPo piece raised questions, such as:

Would you prefer someone who knew the truth and hired you anyway?

As long as your truth is a contextually relevant truth (and provided the job you’re interviewing for is a decent fit), there’s no reason an honest answer should hold you back. Just remember that honesty is not a substitute for thoughtfulness; they work best when they work together.

Also in his list of questions is:

Is there an acceptable excuse for lying?

Ultimately, it’s up to you and your conscience to decide. But as many others before me have pointed out (including Ms. Williams), the truth is far easier to maintain than deceit, and personally, I generally choose the truth for all of the reasons above plus one more: I have too much on my mind to keep up with various versions of reality.

What’s your take? When is it OK to lie, or is it ever? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • Delicious
  • Sphinn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • LinkedIn
  • FriendFeed
  • Squidoo
  • Technorati Favorites
  • Share/Bookmark
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

SEO Powered by Platinum SEO from Techblissonline