Everybody lies. We're used to lies ranging from, "No, dear, that dress doesn't make you look fat," to the advertising that splashes across the TV screen every six and a half minutes. Even so, we don't want to believe that other people are liars. At work, lies aren't innocuous. Lies ruin reputations and trigger events that can bring companies down. Whether you're an employee with a lying coworker or a supervisor dealing with a lying employee, you can take steps to ensure the lies don't cause dissension, damaged reputations or lost opportunities in the workplace.
Go to the source when you have a question about something a coworker says. If a coworker who has a reputation as a liar tells you the sky is purple, look out the window. Most of the time, a lying coworker who spins elaborate tales is little more than an annoyance, but a coworker's lies can have an impact on your job if she lies about you and your performance.
Confront your coworker only if you hear him tell an apparent lie and only if you feel comfortable doing so. Remember that some incidents might actually have been misunderstandings. Also, some outrageous tales, however improbable, are the truth. Remember, too, that the office rumor monger might not be lying, but only repeating what he heard.
Take your coworker aside -- calling someone out in public is disruptive -- and ask him about a specific statement, calmly. If your coworker appeared to lie about instructions he received from you or gave you, let him know future instructions should be in writing or through email. However, if the lie concerns you or another worker, don't confront the coworker at all. Take any evidence you have to your supervisor immediately and file a complaint.
Keep written notes when you expect a worker is lying, if you're a supervisor. Do not disrupt the work day. Call the alleged liar into your office just before the close of business. Don't invite the worker to sit. Close the door and ask about the latest incident you've documented. If you've received a complaint about his activities from one of his coworkers, begin with that complaint.
Take notes, both on the complaint you received and on the worker's response. According to Philip Houston, a former CIA employee, in almost all cases the truth is what you hear in the first five seconds of a person's response when they're confronted. Liars, Houston says, try to sidetrack you with something that's true, but unrelated.
Document the interview with the worker and have him sign and date the document. Remind the worker that lying can have a negative impact on his employment. Let the worker know that if employees come to you with complaints about lies, it may be considered verbal harassment or intimidating behavior, and you will pursue the matter further. Dismiss the worker and ask him to close the door as he leaves.
- Spy the Lie - Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception; Philip Houston, Michael Floyd et al.
- The Naval Officer's Guide; William Mack and Harry Seymour
- U.S. Department of Labor: OSHA - Workplace Violence
- Up the Organization - How to Stop the Organization from Stifling People and Stangling Profits; Robert Townsend
- If you're a supervisor, allow employees suspected of lying to stand when you interview them. It makes them uncomfortable and you can watch their body language. If they start to sit, tell them there's no need for them to sit: "This will just take a second."
- If you ask them to close the door when they leave, they'll suspect you're still absorbed by their discussion, even if you aren't. This discomfort on their part may help prevent another incident.
Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.