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Why Do We Lie?

Rob Ford has a new video out. In it he explains why he lied about his crack cocaine use.

“Why did I lie? I think everybody in the world has lied. Because I was embarrassed”, he said.

Of course you were. And sadly he’s right, we all lie.

According to a study published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology, 60% of the study’s participants had lied at least once during the 10-minute conversation, saying an average of 2.92 inaccurate things. We lie so often, it has been normalized.

It doesn’t mean we as a culture accept lying. Take Mr. Ford for example. His lies will likely be his undoing.

Lies seem to fall into three categories:

  1. Soft lies that enable us to protect our privacy.
  2. Lies that are designed to display tactfulness.
  3. Deceptive lies which may involve leaving out the truth or putting in something false, corroding trust.

In Rob Ford’s case, it is clearly the later. It is about more than protecting privacy. The public’s trust has been impacted. He doesn’t get off the hook.

I’ve been thinking of this a lot lately. I ask this question of my audience, HR Professionals. Are HR lies a bad thing?

After all:

  • We lie to ensure people feel at ease about circumstances that maybe they might feel uneasy about.
  • We lie to soften the impact of certain buffoons we work with who continually blow it with our people.
  • We lie when we don’t tell the whole story or omit certain elements, sometimes in the name of strategy and image.

Are any of these types of lies deceptive? Is anyone hurt?

In some cases, yes. And then there is our Code of Conduct. We can’t lie in certain circumstances, in effect, when it really counts.

I recently had a discussion with an employee of a client who said that he was frustrated because so much of what had been going on in the business had been cloaked in secrecy, except that the word got out through the grapevine. When the “real story” came out, the reality was that the message had been so sanitized that it no longer reflected the truth. He told me that his disappointment, disillusionment really had to do with his feeling that someone thought the truth had to be spoon-fed to him, when in fact he was a grown-up who deserved to be treated like one. He was right, he did deserve to be treated like a grown-up.

Think about this the next time you have the compulsion to lie.

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