Honesty is the best policy. There is no doubt that Sir Edwin Sandys nailed it when he wrote this statement all those years ago. But let’s be honest, we all lie.
Sometimes we tell big lies; outright lies that are the opposite of the truth. Sometimes we tell softened truths; lies that temper the truth in an effort to minimize making another person feel badly. Sometimes we omit parts of the story…not really lying but not really telling the whole truth. And we justify all these little white lies by telling ourselves that we are doing it to protect the ones we are lying to. Or to make people feel better. Or that the little white lie you told to boost your image is harmless…stretching the truth doesn’t hurt anyone and it sure did make you feel a little better about yourself.
We tell lies like these everyday:
“Those pants don’t make you look fat!”
“For some reason you’re voicemail just came through; that’s why I’m just now calling you back.”
“The check is in the mail.”
“No, I don’t think you are abrasive. I don’t know why anyone would tell you that.”
“The trout I caught was a record breaker!”
Humans are wired to be a bit dishonest. At least that’s what Dan Ariely, behavioral economist and famed author has found in his numerous studies on honesty and cheating in context to human behavior. According to Dan, we all lie and cheat…just a little bit, or at least until our brains reward us for stopping ourselves from cheating or lying further. Sure, you just told a fib but you can pat yourself on the back for stopping at just one. By all means, you could have expanded upon the lie but that would be outright dishonest.
It’s easy to justify why it’s okay to tell a small lie. But here’s why you shouldn’t.
There isn’t a person out there (okay, maybe a few) who wouldn’t say that he or she values honesty and believe that it’s a top character trait. But we throw this value out the window when we tell little white lies. What’s more important: staying true to your values or telling that lie? What good are values if you don’t live by them?
Giving honest feedback is difficult to do but telling a little lie to avoid giving it is a cop out and a missed opportunity. Wouldn’t you rather know that those pants really aren’t that flattering? Or that people actually do see you as abrasive? Or that you need to make improvements at work? You’re not alone. We all need feedback so be kind, candid and smart in your timing, but don’t tell a lie to avoid giving feedback.
No one likes being lied to, period. You can tell yourself that you are lying to protect the other person, but the truth is, you’re still lying. Dishonesty breaks down trust in a relationship and without trust, there isn’t much of a relationship. Overtime, anger, resentment and suspicion may replace the positive feelings people had about you. Lying just isn’t worth it.
The Self-Justification Trap
If you’re like most people, telling lies will make you feel uncomfortable and uneasy (as it should). In efforts to ease these icky feelings, you may tell yourself a story. “I did the right thing by lying. The truth would have been far worse on her and therefore it’s justified. Besides, she really doesn’t want to hear the truth anyway.” This is the ‘self-justification trap’ and it basically means you are lying to yourself to make yourself feel better. Don’t let yourself off the hook; stop justifying your lies.
It’s Hard to Remember Lies
Telling the truth is always your best option. That way you don’t have to remember the lies you told. Sure, being honest in the moment may be difficult, but getting caught in a lie that you don’t remember telling will cause you to lose credibility.
Little Lies Can Turn into Big Lies
It’s easy for a seemingly harmless little lie to turn into a massive one when you have to tell more lies to support the first one. Just remember the story of Pinocchio.
Let’s face it, despite all the reasons not to, you will still lie. You won’t tell your spouse that “yes, in fact, you have gained a little bit of weight.” You will exaggerate your role in a situation. You will downplay your opinion of a coworker when he comes to ask for feedback. Little white lies will escape your lips…just like they will from everyone else’s. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attempt to minimize the lies you tell. Try your very best to always be authentic and honest. And when you do tell a lie, be aware of it and admit it to yourself. Self-deception is the worst kind of deception.
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