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Lying at work: Who is to blame?

A friend recently narrated the tale of his colleague who sought permission to rush home following a medical emergency. Sadly for him, the very person who was supposedly unwell called the receptionist to inquire about his whereabouts. It was obvious to all those present in the office that this chap had taken my friend for a ride. Since it was a matter of office discipline, the boss  had the choice of firing the person or letting him go after a stern warning.

My friend, who runs his own enterprise, did the unthinkable by reimbursing the man’s ticket for a cricket match that he had seen after bunking office but called him in to work over the next weekend. Upon persistent questioning, he shared the reasons for his actions. “To be honest, this chap had dropped not-so-subtle hints about his desire to watch the match, even suggesting that he had completed his tasks for the day. It is just that I didn’t realize it at that time. So, in a way, I too am to be blamed for his lie,” my friend reasoned.

Image courtesy: Misscellania.com

This set me thinking about the role played by leaders in eliciting the truth from their teams. Do they build the levels of trust needed in employees to speak the truth? Do leaders have the patience and the strength to accept disgreements? That being the case, don’t such leaders encourage brown-nosers within the team. Remember, sycophants lie not because of malicious intent. Their lies are always self-serving and related to the knowledge of who it is that controls their salary and promotion!

Workplace liars are broadly of two kinds. The first variety comprises the sychophants who fulfil their managers’ never-ending hunger for compliments or are wary of their inability to accept disagreements. A person bringing a problem to the table is often saddled with finding a solution to it. The boss, visibly impatient at being shown a problem, doesn’t think twice before dumping it on the messenger’s head. In the process, he loses a perceptive colleague who may think twice before raising another.

The other kind are the shy ones who lack the confidence to bring up an issue before a full house. Such individuals usually have the ability to perceive problems or incongruities but seldom raise it due to an inherrent lack of confidence. Often, the boss makes things worse by pouncing on these hapless individuals with a counter-argument. Worse still… they crack a joke and cause the person to clam up forever. There is also the nagging concern that the boss can get nasty and mess up one’s career.

Lying at work is not an insurmountable problem. For starters, we can make a conscious effort to spot liars at work. The most obvious warning signal is their penchant for vigorously nodding their heads to everything that you say. There are others who never take the blame for things gone awry as also those who lie due to guilt. However, the worst offenders are the ones insecure about their positions within the group or are highly competitive and want to win at all costs.

Both these types find it easy to prey on a paranoid manager’s mind unless one aggressively addresses this tendency within oneself. The simplest way to build confidence within the team is to honor those that disagree with you. Patiently listening to a colleague is the first step towards showing that you care. Of course, this does not mean that leaders have to build consensus at work. It is also worth noting that expressing an opinion does not amount to insubordination.

Keeping the brown-nosers away and giving more opportunities to those who disagree is a sure-shot way of cutting the crap within the team. Asking questions during such interactions and trying to delve deeper into the issue being brought to fore is a practice that all good leaders bring to the table as they know for sure that their strength is derived from the team and not vice-versa.

As a postscript, one is reminded of Adolf Hitler’s words: “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” If the leader himself doesn’t think twice before lying, the team will only feel emboldened to partake in more lies as Hitler found out during the Second World War!

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