Giving Liars a Second Chance
Liars lie for gain, protection, or harm. Lies are self-serving manipulations that violate trust. Some lies are malicious. Others are spoken for personal gain. Still others are silent omissions. The lies we tell include:
- I’m sick.
- Customers come first.
- There’s just this one little problem.
- People are our most valuable asset.
- That’s great.
- I came up with the idea.
- Sorry, I missed your call.
- I’m on my way.
- I’ll call back later.
- You’re doing fine.
- I didn’t get the email.
- It’s not personal.
- I never got your message.
- It was their fault.
- I have it done.
- I don’t know.
Caught in a lie:
I asked Bill Treasurer, author of, “Leaders Open Doors,” for his thoughts on giving liars second chances. Bill said, “I hate to straddle the fence, but I’d probably say, “It depends.”
- Why was the lie told? Was the liar protecting someone? Were they protecting some deeply held secret of their own, the exposure of which would harm them? Or did they lie to keep from the discomfort of being “in trouble”? The former is easier to forgive. The latter is an escape from discomfort (sometimes called “cowardice”!).
- Did the person fess up about the lie, or were they caught?
- Is the lie an outlier? Or is it an extension of other lies, or worse an escalation. If it’s a behavioral outlier, I’d be more forgiving and remind them of the damage that lies bring to the trust in a relationship.
When should liars get second chances?
When should liars be sent packing?
Related: “12 True Behaviors that Expose Liars”
FREE BOOK: Leave a comment on yesterday’s post for a chance to win one of twenty-five complimentary copies of Bill Treasurer’s book: “Leaders Open Doors.”
Living in Montreal where at the moment we are discovering more about decades of political and corporate lies and corruption daily thanks to the Charbonneau Commission this question is front of mind. I would like to add one more. It depends on the impact the lie has.
Great add! Impact is definitely a factor. Thanks
Love that you include those old corporate cliches in your list of lies. Our “mantras” become lies when we fail to commit to them. They become shields for crummy decisions, leadership, or relationships. They undermine our influence and destroy our credibility with our teams. If the first thing we told them was a lie and we fail to demonstrate commitment to our “deepest values,” why should the team perform according to any of our values at all?
Thanks for the great insight this morning, Dan!
Our “mantras” become lies when we fail to commit to them. — KaPow!!
My thinking on the subject.
I’m with Bill, it depends. Mostly on the size of the lie. I’m pretty forgiving and I’ve been burned by that trait.
Thanks for extending the conversation…and yes, it’s true, forgiveness is dangerous. Cheers
I’m willing to forgive almost any mistake as long as it was made with good intentions. (Despite Paths to hell!) Lies seem to indicate a fear environment or a person of low integrity. People of low integrity are probably not worth the time. I don’t like to work for someone of low integrity either.
Thanks for adding the contribution that “fear cultures” make to lying at work. Great add.
I think one chance for the malicious liar…after that…hit the road Jack.
Well love Bills answer, spot on!
We ALL lie, happens to the best of us and the worst of us.
AA Big Book says there is some of the best in the worst of us and some of the worst in the best if us. I do my best to see others through the eyes of a person who is human too!
I would add only people lie for the anticipation of gain, not for gain cause they do not know the fruits of their labor yet. More to be revealed if the lie will benefit them short term or not. Only thing for certain a life built on dishonesty ain’t likely to feel very good or be fulfilling.
Thanks Dan. Have a good one!
Thanks Scott. As I read your post, I thought about the connection between comfort with who we are and lying. When we aren’t comfortable with ourselves we tend to lie to cover up. Cheers.
First there needs to be clarity on what you are saying a lie is. Is it that I told you I would have something to you by a certain time and it does not happen? Yes it was a lie but what was the intent? So maybe what I am saying is intent. If i was purposefully trying to mislead I do not believe a second chance is due. But if my intent was to do what I said I would hope for some mercy before judgement is passed on my character. All goes back to relationship and communication doesn’t it.
Useful distinction Randy. I’ve heard people say, “I lied” when they didn’t do something they fully intended to do… I don’t think of that as a lie.I wonder if I should think of it as a lie?
I don’t think that is a lie. It is a lie if you KNOW it is not true at the time you are telling it. If you believe it to be true and it turns out not to be the case, then you were just mistaken.
Thanks! Makes sense to me. You explained it well.
Leading someone away from lying is leadership in its at its most noble and most difficult style. It involves accountability and attention that is usually not widely supported in the industrial environment of these times (in other words your boss is likely to say “Bill is a liar, get rid of him, we have few resources and other matters to attend to..”). it is time consuming, and often emotionally draining. It is often a step forward, step backward process … and then your boss, who is still watching, may respond with an “I told you so.” However helping someone turn from such behaviors is truly adding a life changing skill, so for those leaders with a strong, patient, divine-invoking (“God please help Bill..”) nobility it is very rewarding. Expect the process to take many months to years. Expect the rewards to be heart/spirit centered, not in the near term bottom line. The “thank you’s” are often delayed.
Your comment seems noble to me… I’ll add that, I’m not sure I have that kind of patience. Lie once…ok.. keep doing it… I’m done.
A world without lies would be harsh indeed. Only the truly naive would ever believe that lies do not have a place. Now, to qualify, lies like “I have no recollection of that security breach.” or “I did not see the victim the day they were murdered.” are very different from “Your new hair cut looks great!” or “That dress certainly does not make you look fat.”
I’m a terrible liar. I wish I was better at it. I even like lies. “Your hair isn’t thinning ‘that’ bad.” is always nice to hear. Even though I know it’s a lie. It’s nice to know the perpetrator is thinking of others when they form the lie.
That said, it depends on a second chance. Depends on what’s at risk with the lie, I suppose.
You leave the “best” comments. 😉
Seriously, the last line is important… whats risk. Thanks
One thing about the truth: No matter how inconvenient it is to tell, you’ll never forget where you last left it.
Simple enough. No second chances necessary.
There is also a branch of lying that involves self-deception (lack of self-awareness). It is easy for any of us, following a couple of successes, to form an incorrect view of our own capability, nobility, or invincibility. The more one wears it, the deeper it becomes ingrained. As a manager, this is the one I have had the greatest difficulty…well, managing. Any suggestions?
I was thinking about this too.. Self-deception is a challenge. Do we give a second chance to someone who is self-deceived?
In professional context, I think people who lie the most are the one that is being delegated without any supervision.
Delegating tasks would be effective if the delegation is highly competent & highly motivated. Delegations who lie probably lacks of one of those 2 points. If we think we can fix the lack of competence/motivation, then we should give him another chance.
Very interesting add…hadn’t thought about how poor delegating might encourage lying. Cheers
How poignant. I presented a proposal to our CEO. Yesterday, he explained “the board did not endorse it.” Per the board members, the CEO actually presented it to them as a proposal he did not endorse. I’m upset. I can no longer trust his integrity. It makes me question all words and interactions. I guess I’m experiencing a double standard, because when I get lied to by a subordinate, I confront, forgive, and forget. I consider it part of their development and growth. But when lied to by a superior, your world changes. How you view the company changes. I may be committing professional suicide, but I will be confronting the CEO about this today.
Hi, Keegan. I hear what you’re saying. I’m learning that almost anyone is capable of giving inaccurate information. It’s possible (although I have no idea of how likely) that the Board chose to hide behind the claim that the CEO didn’t endorse the proposal. Perhaps that’s their way of getting off the hot seat? Just when I think something is clear-cut/black and white, it turns out it isn’t. I’m a lot more skeptical now.
I wish you the best.
We give liars a second chance all the time. Think Michele Bachmann, for example. Wish we COULD hold some of those powerful people accountable, but few people actually do. I hate to turn this political, but I just posted this up on my Facebook page yesterday:
Republicans’ claims are far more likely than Democrats’ to be rated FALSE — 60% to 29% — according to research released Tuesday.
Since January, PolitiFact has rated 52% of Republicans’ statements as mostly or entirely false, compared to just 24% of Democrats’ statements, the study found.
In the first 3 weeks of May, amid controversies over the attacks in Benghazi, Libya and investigations at the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice, 60% of Republicans’ statements were rated as FALSE, compared to 29% of those made by Democrats.
Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) claim that the IRS runs a “huge national database” of personal details, for instance, got a “PANTS ON FIRE” rating for being a HUGE lie.
“While Republicans see a credibility gap in the Obama administration, PolitiFact rates Republicans as the less credible party.”
George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs, which conducted the study, looked at 100 claims, 46 made by Democrats and 54 by Republicans.
Lying by our elected official public representatives is disgusting, in my opinion, but we seem to tolerate it and hold none of them accountable. These are not innocent claims about being sick when one misses work but are statements about our government and our country.
You can see the full article, with links, here:
There are some situations where intentional lying should just not be tolerated — it is deceptive and manipulative. It is dishonest and unethical.
I think the acceptability of lying also has to do with a person’s right to know the answer to the question they are asking in the first place. It is a violation of trust to try to obfuscate the status of a project, for example, it is a kind of bearing false witness and a sort of character theft to claim credit for work or ideas that are not yours. It’s of absolutely no import that you are rarely late for work for a private reason but choose to say ‘traffic’. So I suppose the fundamental point for me is, Am I entitled to have the truth about a given issue? If so, that is what is required and lies have no place.
“I will call you back” seems the common lie today. I have seen people saying, I am busy now and will call you on the same number. Most of the time, they never call back and it seems that it has become easy and es-capable tool not to respond the call. I agree that liar plays with innocent trust. And they keep on manipulating with innocent trust. There are many ways why and how liars get second chance. They can win the trust level of others. And they keep on cheating till they get exposed. Secondly, they show that they are innocent and hence gets other chance to lie. They also get other chance when people assume that he or she will not repeat it. In the system, there is limitation as well where superiors or colleagues have to rely on others. I think, in the system when it is noticed that someone is incorrigible liar, he or she should be treated in two ways. First he or she should be warned against such behavior. When it is felt that this strategy does not work, he should be given freedom to lie as much as he or she can do it. Such lie should bring into books and based on strong evidence, liars should be sent packing. It means, there should enough evidence against liar to deal with severely.
Ha! And, “Your message is important to me.”
Voice mail is a way of never having to say hello… Some people NEVER actually answer their phones, which I find amusing. They are managing THEIR time at the expense of YOUR time and informational needs.
Is an, “I am not at my desk” message simply another form of organizational deceit?
Hadn’t thought of “your message is important to me.” Good one!
One wonders what an individual is REALLY THINKING when they put that little phrase into their message. Are they really aligned and congruent and KNOW that they consider the message important and that they will call back or are they lying all the way to the bank and knowingly think that it is bull crap but simply the expected thing to say?
THAT would be a most interesting survey and research study, one would think. With call-director technology, it would probably be somewhat easy to measure…
Your list of lies is an “includes but not limited to” start. It really is quite incredible how wide ranging just work-related lies can be. Unfortunately, once you have identified a lie, you can be very, very certain that it is not the first that has been told to you, by the lying person.
Once I have discovered a lie, under further investigation I always uncover other lies. Lying is a habit that requires very specific, focused work to break. Giving a second chance is all about how much work I am willing to put into holding the “perpetrator” accountable for their behaviours.
It is a very personal choice about how much lying each person allows in their business environment or in their personal life. I have discovered extreme lying in business, and realized that people displaying such behaviour were doing so to get exactly what they wanted, which included failing me at crucial moments with crucial stakeholders. The behaviour is woven throughout a person’s life and you will see it if you stop long enough to look closely.
People who are comfortable telling you “little” lies will graduate to larger lies, if it serves them. We create these graduated approaches to evaluate “impact” of behaviour but need to recognize that we apply this gradient after the lies are told. If we do not intervene when “little” lies are told, we are responsible when destructive ones are used to manipulate. If the liar does not perceive benefit from changing the behaviour, all energies are irrelevant.
As a person who really does give second chances for the most horrific of disingenuous behaviours, I know only this:
Deceive me once, shame on you.
Deceive me twice, shame on me.
It takes true commitment to give second chances to someone who lies, and a recognition that the behaviour is deeply ingrained and will not easily or instantly end.
I posted up a little ditty on psychopathology on my blog that relates to the above. It is often a beneficial behavior for organizational ladder-climbing and interpersonal effectiveness (seriously!).
Wasn’t it George Bush who famously said:
Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on you…
I agree with Bill Treasurer when he says, “It depends.”
Short of catching a suspected liar red-handed (pardon my mixed metaphor) — which simply doesn’t happen that often in the workplace — a second chance is the way to go. BUT, once you suspect someone of being a liar, you need to be prepared for the next time it happens. Because if a person is truly a liar, he or she will lie again. And once alerted to and prepared for this tendency, the next time it happens the better position you will be in to “send them packing.”
Perhaps it depends. I have a hard time with people that live in the world of lies. Reality and truth have no meaning to such people. I would rather deal with people that believe in: Is it the truth, is it fair to all, will what I do build better friendships and trust, will what I do be beneficial to all. Easy to say, hard to live. I try hard every day to live this philosophy. I would like to think our world would be a better place if more of us tried to live in the truth.
What about pathological liars? I honestly think there its senseless to forgive them. I’ve had my share with a few and, honestly, I’ve realized that they function in an utterly enigmatic state-of-mind – one which bewilders any rational, sane person. And yet, they exhibit a nonchalant demeanor, like as if nothing ever happened and no betrayal of trust had just occurred. They’ve been accustomed to it, as if it were a way of life.
Good call on this. I’m with you. It’s the job of leadership to protect people from the pathological types.
Well, one of the most important questions you should ask is “Why was the lie told?” or maybe “What is the purpose of lie?” The answer can guide your behavior.
People will always do things for our own good. They will lie if they believe it’s for their own good. Your job is to make sure that their interests are not going to harm yours.
If they harm, you can:
1. Remove them if you can.
2. Try to convince them that your interests are for their own good.
In the other case, if their lies are not hurting your interests, let them say whatever they want.
Most corporate ‘lies’ like ‘our people (customers) are our most important asset’ all the while treating them like they aren’t fall more into the category of Seinfeld’s Costanza defense – “It’s not a lie if you believe it” – rather than are stated as known, outright lies. However In a legal situation at trial it would be enough to say that either they knew this was a criminal act or they ought to have known.
Sadly we haven’t yet brought this standard to all our organizations where a board will ask for proof of these statements. Far too many executives and managers still think that denial is just a wonderful river in Egypt and knowingly engage and deter all discussion to the contrary or fail to do the checking to see how others perceive the issue. The most feared exec in our team (former company) used to brag each year as to how he got the best 360 feedback from direct reports to which I couldn’t resist saying ‘that is because they’re afraid of you and our folks feel they can be honest about us.’ This person had some years before took about 6 months to break his team down and identify who told the unspeakable truth on a 360 and once that was known – fired the guy immediately. Everyone knew that story.
But on outright lies I do know of other colleagues and at times superiors that would routinely lie or embellish the truth in situations where there were far more attractive reputation saving ways to deal with these things they didn’t want to discuss. My take as to why? It seemed to be a more common failing with executives and seniors manager who did this because they didn’t like a confrontation.
Early on in my management career I learned the tremendous value there was in telling the truth and being known for being candid, straightforward and truthful – even if it was uncomfortable. A lot of power in truth and you don’t have to go home at night worrying about being caught out.
Later on, In a quite political organization I learned the value of self reporting problems or issues that involved my group or division and the power of getting to my VP before he could get the complaint from another part of the organization. This early briefing of the boss with the whole story enlisted this person’s support whereas with other managers who left him blindsided he was slow to defend whereas with me and my team we were rewarded for this.
I have not tolerated lies from my direct reports and make it an issue of integrity (theirs) if they withheld bad things from me and I had to find them out via others. Where corrections had to be made – they were – and mostly these managers learned that I wasn’t out to get them and I was tolerant of errors but not lying.
There are situations where a person in fear for their job lies. In that situation and depending on what the lie was about I’d be tolerant and as a CEO want to fully explore why that person felt they had to lie.
Normally lying is like stealing with an employer. The relationship is then breached and the usual course of action is separation.