My mother and I have ongoing battles with our scales. In her case, sometimes she doesn’t like what it says. She fiddles with it, adjusts how she places her feet, changes batteries and gets on and off it several times determined to find her desired weight. When she gets totally disgusted with the scale, she returns it to the store and purchases a new one because the extra pounds are clearly the fault of the scale.
Come to think of it, my mother’s mother had scale issues too. She simply said it was wrong and got off. My scale can also be off sometimes. However, I find if I move it slightly to the left or to the right, I can actually shave off a half pound and on a good day if I center it just right, I can even lose a full pound. So when my scale says I’ve gained a few, I am confident the real problem is its location on my bathroom floor. Or, perhaps it’s simply a genetic trait inherited from my mother’s side of the family.
Scaling back the pounds made me wonder how we balance the lies that we tell privately and publicly. What’s the difference between deluding yourself and deluding others? If I move my scale to make myself feel better, who am I really hurting? But if management deludes themselves into believing things are better than they really are, then they might not take corrective actions when needed. Self-deceit can affect stock price, morale and grind a company to a halt.
There are other whoppers that turn into public scandals. Athletes have lied about drug use. Politicians lie about money and extra marital affairs. Job applicants embellish résumés. People post book and product reviews when they haven’t read the book or used the product.
Researchers have been studying the topic of lying for decades and it turns out we bend the truth a lot. We ask people how they’re doing when we don’t really care. We fib about weight and the size of our clothing. We post profile pictures on social sites that make us look decades younger than we really are. We tell friends and family members we loved their gift even though we’ve already sold it on eBay.
Companies spin news every day. They promise products that will make you look 10 years younger and twist negatives into positive headlines.
In fact, lying is so prevalent that one study reported most of us lie once a day and that 60 percent of people lie at least once in a 10-minute conversation. Published articles suggest we learn how to tell tales as early as 3 years old, often mimicking our parents. Most parents don’t deliberately teach us to lie, but we observe them stretching the truth to protect someone else’s feelings.
Whether well-intended or not, all this fibbing makes it difficult to tell fact from fiction which can be pretty serious business when it comes to business where fudging facts can have significant repercussions.
A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that people with power seem to have a greater ability to deceive others. They divided research subjects into two groups: bosses and employees. Half of the subjects were instructed to steal a $100 bill. If they could convince an interviewer they hadn’t taken it, they were allowed to keep it. All of the subjects, even those who didn’t steal money were questioned. In the interviews, lying bosses displayed fewer signs of dishonesty and stress and were harder to distinguish from those telling the truth.
So how can you actually tell if someone is lying?
Stanford’s Graduate School of Business looked into this when they conducted a study a few years ago. They analyzed the transcripts of nearly 30,000 conference calls by American CEOs and chief financial officers and paid attention to how people deliver words differently when fibbing. The study suggested bosses who lie avoid saying “I” and instead speak in the third person. It said they use stronger words like ‘fantastic’ instead of ‘good’ to sound more persuasive.
Lie detection experts say no single behavior will give someone away but there are four areas of nonverbal signs of deception: touching hands, touching the face, crossing arms and leaning away.
As an example, in our company speaker coaching sessions, we observe when people share stories and personal experiences; they are usually lively and use their hands to express themselves. If someone is lying or telling a story that didn’t really happen to them, we notice they gesture less and their facial expressions are typically not as animated.
So when is lying okay? If your partner says “do I look fat in this?” and you think they do, telling the truth may hurt their feelings. And what about the 4- year old who believes in Santa Claus? Telling the child Santa isn’t real may spoil the youthful allure of Christmas. If someone asks you to do something followed by “do you mind” and you say you don’t even though you might mind a little, is that kind of a lie bad?
Perhaps what we need to do is differentiate between harmless lies that are meant to protect someone else and more serious lies that are about protecting ourselves at the expense of others.
By the way, my mom just called. She got a new scale.