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Dishonest Employees - 22 November 2011

One of the most infamous liars of all time is a man known as Baron Münchhausen. During the 1700s he was sent to fight in the military but, when he returned, he was full of tall tales. He’d endlessly entertain people with stories about his adventures abroad, all of which he pretended to be true, but all of which were false. And many people believed him.

Baron Münchhausen told them he flew to the moon – twice – and this was 150 years before the airplane was invented. He told them he escaped from a swamp by using his hair as a rope. He professed to have visited an island made of cheese surrounded by a sea of milk. He claimed to have ridden cannonballs, to have crossed the river Thames without a boat, and to have singlehandedly destroyed monsters. He swore he even drove a ship into the mouth of a fish.

 

Lies at work are rarely that exaggerated. But they’re lies nonetheless. It could be fake excuses as to why someone’s calling in sick. Or a promise that everything is under control when clearly it’s not. Or employees in training saying they don’t have any questions even though they’re uncertain. And those are just a few of the most common workplace fibs.

So how do you deal with lies at work? One way is to become a lie-spotter, which is when you try to detect when someone’s lying by analysing the words they use, the facial expressions they portray, and their body language. But lie-spotting can be an incorrect science vulnerable to misinterpretation. A leading researcher on this topic is Pamela Meyer, and she believes it’s best to move away from lie-spotting and head towards truth-seeking.

She believes that lying is a cooperative act, which means a lie has no power just because a person utters it. A lie becomes potent only when someone – maybe you – chooses to believe it. If you’ve been lied to by an employee, it’s because you agreed to be the victim.

People lie for a variety of reasons. They might be too scared to be totally honest, or they might be trying too hard to impress, or in some cases, they intentionally seek to deceive. No matter the reason, lie-spotting only pinpoints the symptom without fixing the problem. Truth-seeking, on the other hand, abandons the blame game in favour of the real picture. Here are seven suggestions on how to become more of a truth-seeker in the workplace:

  • Ask: Be skeptical and curious by surprising people with unexpected questions.
  • Probe: When given a response, always ask more questions, especially “why”.
  • Intuit: Trust your gut instinct. If you sense someone’s lying, explore it further.
  • Protect: Make it safe for people to tell the truth. In other words, don’t overreact.
  • Consult: Get a second opinion. And maybe a third – just to be sure.
  • Tackle: Don't avoid what's going on. Ignoring the issues will make them worse.
  • Connect: Employees are less likely to lie when they have a bond with their boss.

The medical term ‘Münchhausen syndrome’ actually comes from Baron Münchhausen, and it’s used in today’s world to describe people who fake an illness for the purposes of getting sympathy and attention. Perhaps it could also be used to describe the motivations of liars in the workplace – but managers don't need to participate in this cooperative act.

 

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