The Real Story – Avoiding Lies at Work

We all know the story by now. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte and three teammates were held at gunpoint at a gas station in Brazil and robbed. Well, not exactly. As we later learned, Ryan Lochte and three teammates got drunk and did something stupid. And instead of facing their actions when they got busted, they lied. The world got an unfortunate look at the moral fiber of some of America’s top athletes.

So, this got me thinking. How common is lying in America and in American business? Do we have a problem telling the truth?

Back in 2013, Bruna Martinuzzi of Clarion Enterprises wrote an article for the American Express Small Business Open Forum and shared these alarming facts:

  • Most people lie at least once a day
  • We hear, on average, as many as 200 lies a day
  • 60 percent of people lie at least once in a 10-minute conversation with a stranger
  • People lie more frequently in phone calls than face-to-face
  • 81 percent of applicants lie during interviews

Well, it sounds like we have a problem.

I will admit here for the world to read – I have lied. When trying to get off the phone with a relative, I have in fact lied about one of my kids calling me. I have used the old “It must have ended up in my Junk folder” when my neighbor emailed me about babysitting her dog. Thankfully, my lies have not caused an international incident.

There is, in fact, a tangible cost of lying, especially in the small business environment. On average, a business loses 5% of its revenue to fraud each year – which has a global impact in the trillions. So, Ryan Lochte, you are in good company!

Ms. Martinuzzi’s article provided eight great tips for small businesses to help deal with the problem of lying:

  • Institute strong internal processes
    For example, don’t allow the same employee to handle recording and processing transactions. There are a number of resources available to help businesses minimize opportunities for fraud.
  • Watch for Warning Signs
    Look for those red flags and don’t assume that your employees, customers, or vendors respect you too much to take advantage.
  • Train Yourself to Spot Deception
    I think this one is great – and takes me back to Ryan Lochte. I read somewhere that this entire story blew up because Lochte originally lied to his mother about the incident. His mother then shared the story with a media outlet and wham! As the mother of teenagers, I am pretty good at detecting the little lies that kids share with their parents. If Mrs. Lochte was better at spotting Ryan’s deception (I find it hard to believe this was the first), things might have ended quite differently!
  • Create an Honest Culture, Don’t Push Your Employees Too Hard, and Model Truth Every Day
    I truly believe that this is the key to minimizing the lies you hear from your employees. Martinuzzi wrote, “If you create a culture of caring, your employees are more likely to respond truthfully, and in kind.” This also means allowing employees to fail, or miss a step, or drop a ball. If you create a culture where an honest apology or a truthful statement about why something did not get done is accepted and respected, then you avoid the little white lies about junk folders and computer files getting lost.
  • Know the Health Risks of Lying
    In the article, “Want a Healthier Longer Life? Stop Lying,” we see that lying causes stress and takes a toll on physical and mental health. Oh Ryan. How have you been sleeping? Your hair might really turn white if you keep this up!

We all saw the impact of one lie told by four young men: the financial impact in the form of penalties and endorsements lost and the emotional impact of the world getting another opportunity to bad mouth the “ugly Americans.” If we work to create a culture and environment where honesty and openness are truly respected, maybe at last the lies can stop.

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