Are you a liar? is a simple yet very tough question … … to answer honestly, that is.
And the colossal irony is that most folks lie when answering the question!
It’s a bit like asking commuters if there are bad drivers on their daily drive to work. Universally everyone will say “Yes, the world is full of BAAAD drivers.” But ask if they themselves are one of the bad drivers and no-one responds yes. 100% say the roads are filled with bad or very bad drivers and the same 100% say they’re not one of them.
As discomforting as the question “Are you a liar?” might be for many of us, extensive research from highly reputable people and several skilled, science-based organizations, suggest that people lie, at least in some degree, in almost every conversation they have – every conversation! YIKES!
One study, conducted by University of Massachusetts psychologist Dr. Robert S. Feldman and published in the most recent Journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology [June 2019] found that in a 10-minute conversation 60% of people lied at least once, and most told at average of two or three lies – in just ten minutes.
“People tell a considerable number of lies in everyday conversation. It was a very surprising result. We didn’t expect lying to be such a common part of daily life.” Dr. Feldman.
So … what does any of this have to do with leadership and success?
Prompted by Simon Sinek’s magnificent book “Start With Why” I’m curious: why do we lie? What are the reasons, the benefits, behind lies and lying? What’s the payoff for so frequently fibbing?
And … is there a difference between genders, between why male leaders lie and why female leaders lie?
Based on more than two decades of helping business owners and business executives expand their leadership talents, skills and abilities, here’s the best that my non-scientific self can offer,
Let’s address the two basic questions:
- Why do we lie?
- Is there a difference in lying patterns between males and females?
Why do we lie?
Lying is easy.
In many ways lying is not always self-centered, egocentric or mean spirited; but whether well-intentioned or self-serving there can be no doubt that lying is easy.
Being honest is hard, often very hard. Truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, is much more challenging than lying. Truth takes courage, lying does not. Truth brings immediate discomfort, lying does not. Truth is difficult, lying is easy.
We. all of us. lie to ourselves all the time. Self-justification and flat-out lying to oneself is a very common ailment. There are volumes of highly regarded books [one of my faves is “Mistakes Were Made – But Not By Me” Carol Tavris & Elliott Aronson] and all of them affirm the innate human tendencies for self-justification and lying to oneself. So strong is this core need of self-justification that we defend foolish beliefs that we hold, unwise decisions we have made, hurtful or less than sensible actions we have taken and, of course, lying and the many lies we tell. Self-delusion and self-justification are as common as dandelions in Spring and frigid days in winter, and both involve an abundance of big or little lies, told to oneself first and others later.
It takes courage to be honest. It takes courage to build intimacy and trust in relationships. It takes courage to face reality.
And it takes radical courage to become fully honest and truly successful, where you feel amazing about yourself and amazing about what you do, based upon truth not deception.
Avoid the easy route. Choose the more difficult path and you will reap maximum rewards.
Lying is easy … but ultimately the damage is severe.
Is there a difference in lying patterns between males and females?
The study conducted by Dr. Feldman discovered a second intriguing conclusion: there are differences in how and why men lie, and how and why women lie.
Feldman’s study showed that men do not lie more than women or vice versa. The genders lie with equal frequency. However, the why behind the lies is very different. The study indicated that men and women lie in distinctly different ways. The lies differed not in quantity but in content.
Said Feldman: “Women were more likely to lie to make the person they were talking to feel good, while men lied most often to make themselves look better.”
Both women and men participating in the study were equally surprised at how much they lied. Regardless of gender we all feel we are more honest than we truly are. And when caught in a lie, women justify because of a broad desire to be kind, to support the other person and to not hurt the feelings of the one being lied to. Men, on the other hand, justify because of a broad desire for them to be seen as strong, someone who knows his stuff and can be counted upon.
And it all begins at the earliest stages of childhood.
Adults give highly mixed messages to kids. We teach our children that “honesty is the best policy”, but we also tell them to pretend that they like a birthday gift they’ve been given by a favourite, or even not-so-favourite, aunt, uncle, friend or neighbour. We tell our children “the truth will set you free” but then they closely observe, and can easily deduce, when we are lying through our teeth. Kids get very mixed messages regarding the practical aspects of lying, and it has a lasting impact on how they [i.e. we] behave as adults. Here’s just a few examples:
“Can you come to my party [barbecue, get together, open house] next Saturday? “Oh, I’d love to, but we’ve already got plans.”
“Wanna get together Friday?” “I’ll have to check with the missus/hubbie. I’m pretty sure we’re doing something.”
“You like my new outfit/hairstyle/suit/car/house/apartment?” “Love it!”
“Trump is such an idiot!” “Uh-huh, you bet.”
“Trump is just what this country needs!” “Uh-huh, you bet.”
“Can I tell you something in confidence?” “Of course, I’ll keep it in the vault.”
As frequent, and as easy as it is to lie, you must surely, and intellectually, agree that you have to be WAY more honest; honest in your communications and honest in your conduct.
Truth and honesty about what you really want is critical. Otherwise, you’ll spend your whole life doing or saying what you don’t want to do, or don’t want to say, and risk creating a slightly or massively tarnished reputation. People may not consciously know why they don’t fully trust you. But the more you lie [or fib] subconsciously they will be forming and holding some strong perceptions, which, over time, will seriously or slightly diminish your influence and trust. When trust is damaged – even slightly – leadership is lost. Lying destroys trust.
What are you currently saying “Yes” to that you should be saying “No” to? Be more honest about the situation. Quit saying Yes and learn to say No sooner. Being honest may cost you some friends and money in the short run. But lying will cost you everything over the long run. Especially yourself.
Courage is the doorway.
Changing your life isn’t a process, it’s a decision, or, more accurately, a series of decisions, one after another. The problem is, most people take way, way, too long to make a decision and perpetually re-visit decisions already made.
Decide to decide.
Indecision is a decision. A weak decision, for sure, but a decision, nevertheless.
Are you a liar?
Let’s all strive to be ambassadors of truth and diminish learned lying habits. The truth will indeed set you free. First it may piss you off. But, ultimately, it will set you free and bring you truth liberation. When you tell the truth, you don’t need a good memory.
To your success!