The Best Lies

Psychology Today reports that more than 80% of lies go undetected. 

Lie to Me was a TV show that ran from 2009-2011.  It was based on the work of Paul Ekman, an expert in lie detection.  According to the producers of the television show, studies and surveys show:

42% of adults think it’s okay to lie.

Only 54% of lies are accurately detected.

2/3 of adults think it is okay to lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

98% of teenagers lie to their parents.

In a conversation the average person will lie 3 times during every 10 minutes.

44% of adults will exaggerate when telling a story to sound “cooler.”

Based on these statistics, lying is prevalent in most workplaces and extremely costly.

You can watch Lie to Me episodes of all three seasons on Hulu during a 14-day free trial.  Or buy the series on Amazon.  (Season 1 is my favorite.)

The best lies are convincing because they contain a portion of truth.

Leaders should master the ability to discern when someone is lying across all four management disciplines:  How you hire, manage, develop, and retain great employees.

Everyone with whom you work may tell a lie at some point. Which person’s lies hurt you the most?

Your own.

Therefore, as you consider these thoughts, commit to develop better habits and behaviors in yourself first.  Become a role model to others of how to live truthfully in all that you do. After sincerely dedicate yourself to work in this direction, then you can request or demand that others in your workplace make a similar commitment.

Actions speak louder than words.  This is why leaders have to go first particularly when it comes to behavioral change.,

Let’s consider some ways that convincing lies have an element of truth:

1.      Lie with Grace:  The lie is pretty clear, however it is masked with insincere yet convincing behaviors that seem to be grace, loving, respectful, and/or caring.

An example of this might be when you confront a person about something they said was a lie, and their response is, “I’m sorry that upset you.” First, they did not admit that they lied. Second, if they are unwilling to admit they lied then they probably don’t care that it upset you either.

2.      Partial Truth:  Someone is telling a part of the truth to manipulate your reaction, response, or conclusion. This may be for selfish gain, or to protect oneself.

For instance, you ask someone if they contacted a client to discuss something, as you had agreed.  Their reply is they talked with the client, but they do not include the fact they did not reach the client within the schedule you agreed to, or discussed everything you wanted them to discuss. This leaves you with the impression the situation was handled properly, when it was not.

Another example is former President Bill Clinton emphatically stating, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…”  This of course depends on your definition of the words, “sexual relations.” By most people’s understanding of the word, he did have sex with Monica Lewinsky multiple times in multiple ways.

3.      Shifting Truths:  One tactic of politicians and negotiators is to respond to a question by stating a truth that does not provide the answer. They may even imply something is the truth when it is not. Again, the objective is to deceive rather than be candid and truthful.

Unfortunately, President Trump is an unconscious or conscious master of this behavior.

The Washington Post has started a section titled, Fact Checker.  The objective of the section is to compare statements of politicians and famous people to the truth.

Assuming the Washington Post is being honest in this effort, it is interesting reading. For instance they recently compared the statements by Kamala Harris on jailing parents for their kids truancy with the facts. Read the entire story here, or the summary below.

When she is asked about her anti-truancy initiative these days, Harris carefully frames her answers in terms of what happened in San Francisco when she was district attorney. No parents were jailed there, so her responses cannot be faulted for being inaccurate.

But they can be faulted for lacking context. Harris went on to become the attorney general of California. She championed a law that other district attorneys outside San Francisco used to jail at least a handful of parents. The Root asked about Harris’s anti-truancy measures in a question about her time as district attorney and attorney general, but she gave only half an answer. It’s a significant omission worth Two Pinocchios.

4.      Small Lies:  Some people referred to “small lies” or “white lies” to justify telling a partial truth. However, there are at least two major issues with this approach.  (1) Whatever you want to call it, the reality is that what is being spoken is a lie.  (2) These types of lies lead to bigger lies, and a habit of lying.

Examples of this may be calling in sick when your “sickness” really does not slow you down very much, or when questions about breaking the rules you point out that someone else did it without admitting you made the same mistake, or using the fact they did it as justification for your poor behavior.

The list above is not exhaustive. In my next post I will explain some habits you can develop to catch liars, starting with how we lie to ourselves.

Fear often motivates people to lie.

Be courageous.  Tell the truth in love, respectfully, and intentionally.

When you are uncomfortable with telling the truth, then delay your response.  Get advice from people you trust if necessary.

Truth is a choice.  For some of us, a full commitment to truth is turning in a new direction on our journey.  It’s a healthy choice.

In the meantime, be careful who and what you believe. There is truth to be found, tested, and championed.

Let part of your legacy be that people trusted you to be someone who was truthful and always sought the truth from others to make the best decisions for the common good.


David Graham Russell

Leadership Activist, Author & Consultant