Council Post: Are Your Employees Lying To You?
In 2009, researchers found that kids who had been born blind had the same micro-macro expressions and body language as kids who could see. This refuted the theory that we learn how to express ourselves from our parents. In my experience, what we do learn from our parents is to lie. You don’t believe me? Here are a few examples:
Dad is in charge of dinner and says something like, “Don’t tell your mother that we ordered pizza tonight.” Or maybe you heard your mom say something like, “I’ll buy you ice cream if you don’t tell your dad that we went to the mall.” The phone rings, and you instruct your kid, “Tell my boss that I am sick and can’t answer.” I could go on and on with more examples, but I’m guessing you get the idea at this point. Some lies seem innocent but nonetheless are still classified as lying.
Research Paul Elkman defines lying as a deliberate choice to mislead a target without giving any notification of the intent to do so. I have been working with lawyers for years. Depositions, jury selection and trial preparation — I must confess I love being part of these processes because the stakes for finding deception are high with interrogations and negotiations. When I started doing this job, a lawyer asked me if I understood the meaning of the phrase, “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” It’s what you swear to do before you testify in court, and I’ve found it gets at the core of all workplace lies. There are three major forms of lying: commission, omission and influence.
Lies Of Commission: ‘I Swear To Tell The Truth’
Let’s say a hiring manager asks an applicant, “How many people did you manage at your last job?” The person says, “Around 20.” In fact, they were just part of a group of 20, but never managed the group. This statement is lying with a purpose, modifying the reality to take advantage of the situation and generate false information. This is what I call a lie of commission.
Lies Of Omission: ‘The Whole Truth’
A boss asks one of their employees how a meeting with a client went, and they simply reply, “Awesome!” They don’t share that the client is still reviewing other options and that they don’t actually have any verbal or written confirmation. Based on this statement, the employee is only telling part of the story. This is a lie of omission. Information was left out on purpose to mislead the manager into believing a beneficial point.
Lies Of Influence: ‘And Nothing But The Truth’
Say someone is applying to be a truck driver and is asked on an application about whether they’ve ever had any traffic violations. They write, “I’m a good driver. My church often asks me to drive members to special events.” Here, the person is invoking religion and trying to look good and build moral character, while also deflecting with no clear yes or no answer. This is a lie of influence.
As a manager, it may be your responsibility to uncover these lies. In my experience, it comes down to asking the right questions. Let’s examine two types you can use and two types to watch out for.
These are questions that require explanations, details and recollection of facts and data. They allow you to build a storyline of events. Some examples of good open-ended questions include:
* What was the reason the client chose you?
* Why do you believe you got the job?
* How do you plan to approach this situation?
These are questions that require a short answer, a single word or even a sound. For example:
* Who was in the meeting?
* Did you attend the meeting?
* When was the meeting?
These are questions posed in answer to another question. The person changes the subject or questions the person asking the question or the question itself.
* So, you want to know how much I charge?
* Didn’t you go to Harvard? (This would be in response to someone asking what school this person attended.)
* You know who would be an even better person to answer that question?
Questions That Don’t Demand A Clear Answer
These are questions that are intended to be answered with a yes or no, but allow someone to respond otherwise. An example would be if you asked, “Have you ever had an office romance?” and a person replied, “It was against the company rules.” Allowing someone to state that it was against company rules does not actually answer the question. Similarly, it’s the same if you asked, “Do you know who took the money?” and someone replied, “I wasn’t there.” Be mindful of how you ask questions so you can more effectively get at the truth. Never ever ask two questions in one, as it could give the person an opportunity to get away with only giving you one answer.
All that’s to say there’s a balance. If you go through life actively looking for lies, that is a bias that can hurt relationships. This is something I learned the hard way. If you ask a co-worker why they are in a bad mood and they reply, “I’m OK,” it doesn’t mean that person is lying; rather, they are just not ready to face the problem and need time or some empathy from you in order to be able to share what is going on. Every person deals with bad situations in a different way, and that needs to be respected. If a situation doesn’t affect you, your work or your performance, let it go.