Should Managers Lie To Their Teams?

Image Credit: miss.killer!

When was the last time that you lied? I’m willing to bet that you probably did it today. Or if not today, then you most defiantly did it yesterday or the day before. Let’s face it – we lie all the time. No, generally speaking our lies are not all that big. Rather, we spend our time telling our friends, family members, and coworkers little white lies. Why do we do this and is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Why We Tell Lies

So it turns out that there is a fancy name for these little white lies that we go around telling everyone. The proper name for what we are doing is called prosocial deception. These are the things that we say in order to benefit others (that was a really good speech, I like those clothes that you are wearing, this is the best pea soup that I’ve ever had). Studies have shown that no matter how much manager training we’ve had, we tell these types of lies several times each day. We tell them to the people that we spend the most time with: our partners, our coworkers, friends, and family members – oh, and members of our team. We do this because we believe that these types of lies carry with them very few consequences.

However, it turns out that when we tell lies like this, there are some times when they can be done for what are very selfish reasons. We may not be telling the truth because we want to avoid getting into an argument with someone or perhaps because we are looking for a way to avoid hurting or embarrassing someone. There is always the possibility that we may lie in order to manipulate someone. All of this can get risky if the person that we are talking to knows that we are lying – we may end up damaging the relationship.

One of the things that we may not realize when we tell someone on our team a lie is that what we view as a small untruth may end up causing a great deal of harm. When we tell someone that something is “ok” and it isn’t, they may go ahead and use it again with other people and they may be harmed. An example of this would be a presentation that wasn’t very good. If you told the presenter that they had done a good job and they gave the presentation again, they’d be left wondering why they had not been able to get their message across. An interesting fact that researchers have uncovered is that compassionate people tend to lie more often.

The Right Way To Tell White Lies

So we find ourselves in a tricky situation. We use lies to grease our days and make how we interact with other people a little bit easier. However, we need to be careful how we use these lies because if we’re not careful they can end up hurting people that we know and perhaps even ourselves. The first thing that we need to do is to use our manager skills to evaluate if there are going to be any long-term consequences. If we believe that there will be none, then we should feel as though we have a green light to go ahead a lie just a little bit.

One of the biggest things that I’ve encountered in the workplace is that there are situations where things simply cannot be changed. You need to take timing into account when you are trying to determine if you can get away with lying. A great example of this is if one of your team members gets a horrible looking haircut. They really can’t go home and change it and so it would be a good time for you to lie and tell them that it looks just fine.

You are not going to want to lie to someone if they are probably going to eventually find out the truth. This can be especially tricky if the team member is going to be getting feedback from other people. The one thing that you don’t want to have happen is for you to tell someone that something is just fine and then have one or more people tell them that it needs improvement and make constructive suggestions. You’ll be exposed as a liar and you will have damaged your relationship with that team member.

What All Of This Means For You

As a manager, you have the responsibility of interacting with a lot of different people. As you interact with those people, you will undoubtedly tell some of them little white lies. It turns out that all of us tell these untruths all the time simply in order to make life easier for both us and the people that we are telling the lies to.

The lies that we tell, also known as prosocial deceptions, are told because we believe that there is no lasting impact from telling them. However, this is not always true. We may indicate that there is nothing wrong with something and this can lead to future problems for the person that we’ve told it to. The more compassionate we are, the more likely it is that we’ll tell a white lie. If we decide to tell a white lie, then we need to determine if there are going to be any long-term consequences from this lie. We need to be careful to determine if what we are lying about is something that simply can’t be changed. Finally, don’t tell someone a lie if you think that they are going to eventually find out the truth.

I’d like to be able to tell you that lying is bad and you should never do it. However, the realities of life tell us that sometimes in order to make someone feel better, do some team building, or to help both of us get through a sticky situation, it’s best that we bend the truth just a bit. When you encounter a situation like this, carefully evaluate what the repercussions of your lie might be and make sure that you can live with what will come from it before you say something that is not true.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Can you think of a time that it would not be a good idea to tell a white lie?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Can you ever have too many friends? I don’t think so. As a manager it is very likely that at one time or another one of your friends will be someone who is on your team. This is a pretty natural thing and as long as both of you keep it professional, there should be no problems with it. However, if your friend starts to slack off and not do their job the way that they should be doing it, then what’s a manager to do?