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From White lies to Whoppers. Is it ever ok to lie?

The Other Side Of The Truth

In our previous blog, Can you handle the truth?, we discussed the role of truth in various workplace situations. This time around, we’re taking a look at the other side of the truth coin – lies.

In our latest podcast From White Lies To Whoppers, we consider whether or not it’s okay to lie, and how it makes us feel when we see people blatantly lying, without suffering any consequences…

“Yes, I Can Do That…”

There are many different types of lies. Little lies. Great big, ‘whopping’ lies. Even self-deception.

Let’s look at self-deception first. Imagine a situation at work where you are asked to do something which, deep down, you think might be beyond your capabilities. Maybe your boss is pushing you a little too hard, giving you a project which is almost impossible to deliver, setting you up to fail, even. But you don’t want to seem unwilling and you don’t want to let yourself or your boss down, so you say, “Yes, I can do that”, even though you don’t think you can.

In effect, you are lying, both to yourself and to your boss. But, eventually, the truth will out. There will come a point at which it becomes clear that you are out of your depth, and you will have to ‘fess up’. But wouldn’t it have been better to have said, right at the start, “I’m sorry boss, I think this might be a little beyond me”?

The thing is though, it doesn’t always work out like that. We only really grow by pushing ourselves, and sometimes we only find out what we are capable of, by taking on a challenge which stretches us.

Perhaps your boss has given you that ‘impossible’ project because they believe in you, maybe more than you believe in yourself. And maybe that belief will help you rise to the challenge. And what started out as a self-deceptive lie becomes the truth. Because you discover, to your surprise, that you are capable after all.

Blatant Dishonesty

But what about big, fat ‘whoppers’? Are they ever excusable?

Imagine a scenario where your boss has asked you to compile a report. You put a lot of work into it. It’s detailed, thorough and well-researched and you’re feeling quite proud and pleased with yourself as you hand it over. Then, later, you discover that your boss has passed the report further up the chain, but it now has their name all over it. They are taking credit for your work. How would this make you feel? Should you just accept it because you are part of a team, of which your boss is the leader? Or is it just blatantly dishonest because your boss has taken your work and put their name to it? If being a good leader is all about nurturing and bringing out the best in people (and it is), what does this say about your boss’s qualities as a leader?

Inadvertent Culpability

Sometimes you may find yourself in a workplace situation where you know you are being lied to, but you can’t actually prove it. What do you do about this? How can you be sure, if you have no proof? And how can you report it, if you have no tangible evidence? Is it best to just wait for the evidence to present itself?

What if somebody you know is fiddling their expenses claims, and you are the one who has to deal with this? You know their excuses are becoming ever more ridiculous. You know you are being lied to. But you can’t prove it.

Eventually, a slip will give the culprit away, and the many lies told over a period of time will underline this dishonesty. But were you inadvertently culpable in that dishonesty by not reporting him sooner? Even though you had no solid proof? Food for thought.

Emotional Crutch

What about lying as an emotional crutch, a way of providing psychological safety? Imagine a scenario where you have the feeling that one of your colleagues is not coping very well. You ask them how they’re doing, but they brush you off with “No, no, everything’s okay”. But everything isn’t okay. Not only are they not coping, but they are making mistakes which are costing the company, financially. And their mental health is suffering, leading to an extensive period of time off sick.

So that one lie, that “no, I’m okay, I don’t need any help” has cost everybody. They ‘didn’t want to be a bother’, but in so doing were more of a ‘bother’ than they ever should have been. Their health suffered, as did the company’s finances.

In a situation like this, isn’t it our responsibility as friends, colleagues, and human beings, to push past that lie and help resolve the matter before it gets out of control? To help our colleagues to feel ‘psychologically safe’, without their having to resort to lying about their emotional well-being?

Have A Little Faith

Coping, and not being able to cope, is, of course, the big one.

Burnout is often caused by people taking on too big a workload and either being afraid to ask for help or believing (rightly or wrongly) that they are the only ones capable of doing the work. They’ll work long hours, avoid going on holiday, and eventually start making mistakes because no one can work flat-our forever.

Of course, such diligence is admirable, but only up to a point. Because, ultimately, isn’t someone who is not prepared to ‘share the load’ lying to themselves, in their belief that nobody else is qualified to help out. Doesn’t it come back to having faith in people?

Delegating some work which might be a difficult challenge for someone, but giving them the encouragement to have the confidence to give it a go and succeed? To get over their nerves and have the courage to believe that they can do it?

Isn’t it a key role for a manager to have trust in his team’s ability to grow? To provide a safe space for them to stumble, pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get it right the next time?

Avoid the ‘whoppers’

Ah, the biggest lies. They’re never quite as straightforward as they seem. But whilst the whoppers should be avoided at all costs, and we should try to avoid becoming sucked into someone else’s lie that can all too easily get out of control, is it okay to tell lies of encouragement, that will enhance your colleagues’ self-confidence and self-belief?

Join the conversation…

Let us know what you think about lies in the workplace.

Join the conversation at and find out more about the tricky subject of lies at The Accidental Manager where our five-minute noodles on Perceptual Positions, Delegating Decisions and Reframing will help you to retain your integrity, even in the most complex situations.

You can also follow us on Instagram @noodle_space for daily snippets of noodle wisdom.

The Story of the Accidental Manager by Noodle Podcast

A lot of important learning tends to happen by accident and this podcast series shares with you the lessons we wish we'd known sooner. Kate and Max explore the good, the bad and the ugly experiences they've had as people managers and consultants as they noodle through what worked and why. This podcast helps you to be the best version of yourself when interacting with individuals and teams, sharing ideas to boost your confidence, have more impact and be more influential.

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