The Lunacy of Lying

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Lies are lies. If it’s not the truth it’s a lie, no matter how much you want to believe it. When you tell a lie you damage your credibility, credibility that you need in order to lead. 

Let’s begin with some incredible research findings about deception. 

  • Humans are lied to as many as 200 times a day. 
  • Humans detect lies with only 54% accuracy. 
  • Of the lies we tell 25% are for someone else’s sake. 
  • Children begin deceiving as early as 6 months of age. 
  • Avoiding eye contact is the most presumed sign of lying around the world—even though it’s false.
  • People engaged in normal honest conversation only make direct eye contact 30-60% of the time.
  • Law enforcement officials—including FBI agents, customs agents and judges— performed no better than the average person in detecting deception.

The research suggests it’s harder to tell when someone is lying than we think it is and that around half the lies told go undetected. 

That’s all kinda bad news but it pales in comparison to this absolute truth: the lies we tell ourselves do immeasurably more harm to our ability to lead than the lies we tell others. That’s true because when we lie to ourselves, when we convince ourselves that fiction is fact, we will surely share that lie with others. 

Once you master lying to yourself you will lie to anyone, whether you intend to or not. You actually can become unsure of what the truth really is. It is possible that you don’t even consider an untruth to be a lie. Deception simply becomes a tool you use to manipulate others.

Leading people has nothing to do with manipulating them. Leading requires a relationship of sorts between the leader and the follower. When people feel manipulated they do not trust the manipulator. Absent trust, there can be no relationship. 

Not only does lying damage the ability of others to trust you, it damages YOUR ability to trust others. People who are untrustworthy have major issues trusting other people too.

The people you lead NEED to know they can believe what you say. They need to know that they can trust you. Once, yes once, you’re caught in a lie you make it much harder for your people to follow you.

But I’m betting that you don’t consider yourself a liar. You’re an honest person who maybe just “withholds some details,” or doesn’t exactly tell the “whole truth” in order to allow someone to save face. 

I get that but here’s what you need to get: The absence of truth is a lie. Withholding even part of the truth is lying. You need to be very very careful with the first lie because the first lie very often leads to telling a second lie to protect the truth from the first lie. Lying is the leading cause of more lying. 

Some people excuse themselves for lying with the statement that “the truth hurts.” Well telling someone the truth is like pulling a band-aid off quickly, telling a lie is like pulling it off slowly. The fact is, lies hurt too, they just hurt longer.

Lying is lunacy, it always burns the liar in the end. Even if no one else catches you in the lie, you know that you lied and if you’re a normal person, that in itself will eventually burn you.

Lies almost never work out, the truth almost always does….play the odds, tell the truth! 

 

The Real Truth About Lying

The first big lie is that there are levels of lying, that lower level, little lies don’t really matter. They do matter and here’s why: lying becomes habit forming, especially those little lies you tell yourself.

They matter because little lies grow into big lies, those little lies also multiply, quickly growing beyond your control. The very first lie you tell will almost guarantee another lie somewhere down the road. The next lie is always bigger than the last but no lie is big enough to hide the truth forever, sooner or later the truth will prevail. 

Sometimes people lie to “protect” others or to “protect” a relationship but the truth is they’re likely really just protecting themselves. They can’t fully explain the truth so they just find it easier to lie. Most lies are “self” motivated, meaning you lie for yourself but you’ll never see that until you’re honest with yourself. That’s how the cycle of lying begins and once it begins it’s very hard to stop.

The truth about lying is that it’s incredibly expensive. It often costs the liar far more than it costs the person lied to. Unless of course the person you have lied to is yourself; that is the most expensive lie of all.

When you lie to yourself you steal your opportunity for success, lies take your motivation to give your best effort away. They give you permission to fail. When you lie to yourself you no longer feel obligated to accept responsibility for your actions. When you tell yourself “you’ve done all that you can” when in fact you know in your heart that you haven’t, then you steal your own opportunity to reach your full potential. 

There are no lies more damaging than the lies you tell yourself because the fact is, if you’re lying to yourself you’re lying to everyone else too. 

That doesn’t mean however that it’s okay to lie to others as long as you’re honest with yourself. Lying to anyone is damaging to your integrity. In business, in relationships, and in life there is no greater asset to have than integrity. 

Without integrity you instantly lose the ability to lead. If your people can’t trust you they won’t follow you. If your people can’t believe you they won’t believe in you. If they don’t believe in you they find it hard to believe anything you say. That makes it pretty tough to truly lead. 

When you lie you lose relationships. Real relationships, every real relationship is built on trust. That’s why when you lie to “protect” a relationship you’re almost always doing more damage in the long run. It may be easier for you in the short-term but if you really want to protect the relationship then tell the truth from the beginning. 

Not only do lies damage relationships with others, if you lie long enough and you even lose yourself. 

When you simply tell the truth, every time, you have much less to remember. There is no need to remember who you told what because you told everyone the same thing. Telling the truth sets you free from the worry of “slipping up” and having to tell another lie to hide the last one. 

One more thing for the doubters reading this: if you don’t believe you’re smart enough to be able to tell the truth without offending people then you’re most definitely lying to yourself. Set yourself free and tell the truth, you’re smart enough to do that.

Let’s Be Honest

Can I be honest with you for a moment? 

Don’t you just love it when somebody says that to you? It may just be my perception but salespeople seem to say that kind of often. It’s as if they are asking for permission to tell you the truth, if only for a moment, and then they will go back to being lying scoundrels. 

Another one of my favorites is “is it okay to be honest with you?” That what would seem to indicate that lying is normal and being truthful is unexpected. 

I don’t know about you but I expect the truth from people, in any situation, 100% of the time. Even when I don’t like it. Even when it hurts. 

I expect it, but I don’t give it.

Neither do you, at least not all the time. The average person lies 7 times a day. I’d guess little stuff mostly, you know the kind of little white lies we tell to “protect” someone we care about. 

The problem is lying can become habit forming. The “little” white lies get a little bigger as time goes by. Pretty soon we can lose perspective on what exactly the truth is and then, well then, we have big trouble.

Many people are quoted as having been the first to say “honesty is the best policy.” I suppose it was first said so long ago that no one is certain who said it first but I’d say that through the years someone has even lied about that.

I don’t necessarily know if the truth will set you free but I do know that the truth will always find a way to be set free. With that in mind it seems the best policy would be to always tell the truth, even when it seems as if it would be useful to tell a lie.

Don’t ask for permission to be honest, not for a moment, not for a lifetime. Just be honest. 

Now, a special note for you “leaders” out there, especially those of you at the top of your organization. If your people are afraid to be honest with you then YOU have a big problem. If they feel that they must always tell you what you want to hear then you have a leadership issue in your organization and the issue is likely with you.

YOU must make certain your people feel safe when telling you the truth. You must provide a culture where honesty is rewarded and recognized. 

The moment one of your people feel criticized, punished or worse, humiliated for telling you the truth YOU are toast as an effective leader. You’ll never get the insights you need to truly lead. 

Honesty begins with ourselves. Do you allow your people to be honest with you? Really?

Remember, if you can’t be honest with yourself, you can’t be honest with anyone. 

How Much Does a Lie Cost?

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I was asked once how much a lie costs and I didn’t know how to answer the question. I decided to find out and began to research the cost difference between truthfulness and lying.

There is a surprising amount of research on the topic and I was pleased that by doing some relatively simple analysis I was actually able to determine the actually cost of a lie.

Clearly there is a difference in cost factor depending on the size of the lie. It’s kind of like purchasing a house, typically a bigger house will cost more than a smaller house. So it is with a lie.

I should point out for my friends around the world that my analysis was done in dollars so you’ll need to do the conversion to your currency yourself. The cost, in dollars for a small lie, the kind we might call a “white lie” was as you can imagine, pretty small, coming in at $4.13 per lie.

The amazing thing, the cost of a huge lie, a friendship breaking lie, or the kind of lie that can land you in jail is a whopping $21,843.21.

I imagine that many of you would like to know how I came up with those numbers so let me explain. I made them up… I lied!

So, you mad? Feel like a sucker? How is my credibility doing? I had you for a while, didn’t I? You’ve read a rather long way into this post, invested some time and trusted me. All that, just to be lied to.

The way you’re feeling now is the same way other people feel when you are less than honest with them. It hurts, the hurt is hard to shake. The hurt lasts, sometimes a very long time.

When you lie you damage your credibility and credibility just might be the hardest thing in the world to repair. I’d bet people would lie a lot less if there was actually a dollar cost associated with each lie. Too bad they don’t realize how much their credibility is really worth.

Here is the one absolute truth in this post….your credibility is priceless. There is no amount of money that can buy it back once it’s gone and there is nothing in the world worth trading your integrity for.

When you lose your integrity you also lose your opportunity to lead. There are clearly dishonest people in leadership positions but there are no dishonest authentic leaders.

Think about that the next time the truth seems to hard to tell.