When People Lie to You

How often do you watch ads where people are lying to each other?  Imagine how often our children see this.  And what of those politicians who talk a good game about leadership and integrity while lying?  Is that all just a part of politics at work, home and in government?  Are we supposed to just expect it?

If you’ve read my books on politics at work, The Secret Handshake and It’s All Politics, then you know a certain amount of this has been around for a long time.  And you can learn strategies to help you avoid being a target of lying and worse.  But let’s just look at what can be done if being lied to happens to you now and then.

As a culture we are developing a greater acceptance of lying.  And yet it’s still a harsh experience when you trust someone and they let you down.  Of course, it’s important to assess the situation — to be sure the person actually lied or deceived in some way.  If so, did they do so because they don’t know how to tell you they can’t deliver what was agreed upon?  Is the person embarrassed or hesitant to let you down, so he or she says nothing?  While these reasons don’t excuse the lack of integrity, they are informative.

If you’re an honest person by nature and effective at communicating honestly with people even when it might disappoint them, it’s difficult to understand people who lie.  Moreover, if you expect honesty from a person and he or she doesn’t deliver, it can feel awful.  You feel let down, even duped.

What do you do?  The answer is not easy.  If you can talk directly to the person, especially if he or she is young and might learn from the experience, probing without accusing is a good first start.  You might ask, “Can you tell me why you didn’t do what we discussed?” Or, “Am I missing something here?  It appears that you decided to not tell the truth.  Am I wrong?”

Inside you may feel hurt and/or angry.  But “giving people the opportunity to do the right thing” is one of the primary ways of dealing with conflict with people you care about.  Yelling makes people defensive.  Better to probe, to learn, to suggest a way they might make it up to you or just make things right.

What if the person won’t talk with you?  It’s difficult in this situation to avoid thinking that he or she purposely deceived you.  And not being able to discuss the problem makes it all the more painful.  If you tend to dwell on such feelings of betrayal and being dismissed, especially caused by the actions of someone you trusted,  here again you have what we’ve been calling “choice points.”

First, you might want to look at your tendency to trust.  Was it appropriate in this case?  Did you know the person well enough to take the risk?  Was too much depending on him or her delivering as promised or agreed?  If any or all of these pertain to the situation, then you could take it as a tough learning experience.  Learning is a very important part of life and some lessons are hard ones.  Next time you’ll be more careful.

If it was reasonable to have trusted this person because he seemed credible, then that’s harder. You may feel duped.  But then again, that’s a choice.  Unless you learn that the person did not lie and in fact just needed more time to do the right thing, then feeling duped only hurts you. This person may deceive on a regular basis and you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  So, is that your fault?  It’s doubtful.  It’s only your fault if you trust him/her again without a good deal of proof that things have changed.

There’s much more to write on this topic.  We’ve developed a level of acceptance for such things. But we don’t have to do that.  We don’t always need to be around people who make things up as they go or say one thing and do another.  It uses up too much of our time and energy.

When we do need to be around them, going into any agreement with your eyes open is the best policy.  Not relying on such people for important things is wise.  Learning how to take from them the power to make you angry or feel hurt is especially important. After all, you now know what they’re like.  Maybe they’ll think twice if you’re not a rug to walk on.  Maybe next time they’ll do the right thing.  And if not, at least you won’t be surprised.


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One Response to When People Lie to You

  1. Hi!
    I’m very happy to have found your blog. When reading this blogpost about lies I remember a couple of times when men have lied to me about their connection to some other, more important man. It was on one hand rather amusing because they wanted to give me an impression that they knew another man well in order to impress on me, but in those two cases, it was in fact me that knew the important men better…

    On the other hand I got upset when especially one of the men tried to tell me what the important man was like. I had by that time worked very close to that important man now and then during five years. The man who thought he had to tell me what this important man really was like had known him for about five months… Should I take that as an insult or what?

    One of these men lied about his education in the most silly way – I mean, it wasn’t important at that moment, he had no reason to try to look more well educated than he was. He also said that he had helped one important man a lot with developing his business. It so happened that I had a meeting with this important man a couple of days later and I mentioned that I was told that he had got a lot of help from that man. The important man just stared at me ”What? Has he said that he has helped me? With what? I remember that he gave me a information document once, but that’s all!”

    Anyway, the thing with these two lying men are that they lied about so stupid things. In the first case it got really embarrassing when I told him that ”I have worked with that man for five years” and in the next case it was so easy for me to check the truth.

    Maybe they didn’t even think of this as lying, it was just their way of expressing themselves, but it’s still embarrassing.

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