Van Moody: How to Deal with Liars in the Workplace

Weekdays from 9am to-5pm can be the most stressful hours in your life. The stakes are high. You edged out competitors for a coveted position and have even kept that job in a recovering economy. You bring your A-game every single day. But sometimes the pressure to outperform peers and outpace the competition takes over, and you misrepresent your role in taking a new project from concept to prototype or misspeak about the skills of a team member whose star is rising faster than yours. 

We often anticipate the workplace to be hostile and unforgiving, a battle ground of sorts.  We condition ourselves to “put on our game face” and take no prisoners.  In this fight to forge ahead, often lying is the weapon of choice. Recent surveys have shown that approximately 15 percent of employees in today’s businesses have been caught lying while at work. Some lies are spoken to appease the boss, to cover a mistake or to just keep the peace. That we call them fibs, half-truths, and secrets seems innocuous – and we can often justify them – but lying ruins relationships and destroys morale.

Lying is deeply rooted in our value system, and what we value drives us. For some people, lying is just a poor strategy for gaining acceptance and affiliation. Others, when faced with a conflict such as speaking truthfully or leveraging a perceived advantage, put on a mask.

According to folk etymology, the Latin words from which we get the English word sincere are sine cera, meaning “without wax.” Apparently, this term comes from an age-old practice common in the production of fine porcelain. Real porcelain pieces can crack during the production process, and dishonest vendors filled the cracks with wax to make them appear as though they did not have flaws in them. Honest vendors, in contrast, displayed signs saying Sine Cera to indicate that they sold pure porcelain pieces, not deceptive ones.

A sincere, secure person does not try to cover their “cracks” or flaws. They do not wear a mask. They are driven by a value system that honors authenticity and mutual respect. While there is no way to master the signs of a liar, you can learn to recognize whether someone is lying to you and diffuse their venom.

Watch!

Our body language reveals a lot about what we’re really thinking, even micro-expressions such as eye twitches and raised eyebrows.  Watch for inconsistencies between words and actions.

Listen!

Lying is a lot of work. There is a fine line between being evasive for cause (such as privacy) or convenience (such as a project deadline) and hiding the truth behind a lot of words. Listen carefully. Elaborately detailed explanations attempt to short-circuit follow-up questions and eliminate suspicion.

Speak up!

There is no exact science for differentiating a lie from the truth every single time. Sometimes you’ll need to carefully confront what “doesn’t add up” and then limit your interaction with that person in the future. 

Lying in the workplace can seriously compromise credibility and undermine performance. The good news is that not all lies are malicious and the perpetrators are not unredeemable. When they are, your supervisor or human resources department should step in and help implement corrective actions.