Is honesty really always the best policy? Turns out, even if you say it is, you probably don’t think so. In fact, little white lies are so common that researchers claim most people lie up to three times every ten minutes. Generally, those white lies are told to three specific groups of people—strangers, coworkers, or loved ones—but, regardless of whom you’re lying to, one thing’s for sure: we all tend to fib a little more than we’re willing to admit.
And while this may all seem fairly innocuous, those white lies can add up—and also make you more prone to fire off larger lies down the line. One study published in Nature Neuroscience revealed that when minor untruths go without consequence, our brains are more likely to believe that major untruths will go over just as well. Needless to say, they often don’t.
Robert Feldman published a book ten years ago that demonstrates that the most popular people are the ones who lie most often. Plus, his research shows that before people know each other, they tend to lie at least once every ten minutes.
My question is: How does this affect business success or failure?
I’ve seen that lying is one of the most destructive forces in business management. One of the leading offenders is the way an organization engages in self-deception. An organization will collectively kid itself in the interest of moving forward.
Consider this scenario: You are running a company. You are likely a strong personality or you wouldn’t have had a good deal of success already. You have a new idea, and because you are a good boss with a great staff, you ask for your employees’ input. They support the major thrust of whatever you describe, raising minor objections. You head back to your office to begin an implementation plan.
Now imagine the potential reality: your employees have high mortgage payments, a kid or two, and increasing credit card debt. They also hold the belief that their next raise will be tied to being a popular “team player,” so they withhold awkward but insightful criticism. Your business slowly fails because your employees believe that the truth will put their immediate futures at risk.
Everyone in this scenario is trying to be the good guy. But in reality, the good guy employee would risk his or her raise to speak the truth. The owner—if he really is a good guy—would demand truth and create a culture of honesty—rewarding smart, respectful, and comprehensive thinking.
On the other extreme, I’ve seen the opposite problem in a company whose motto was “challenge the process.” It’s not a bad idea, but in practice, it can create a culture of naysayers. If you were brave enough to agree with anything, you risk not living up to the motto. It can paralyze the organization. Large-scale projects may not get off the ground effectively because company-wide support is impossible to achieve. The motto, unfortunately, can create a company-wide agreement to sustain a different sort of self-deception: “The system or ideas we have proposed cannot be right if I’m going to live up to the motto and get my next raise.”
Clearly, it takes humility, courage, and, of course, honesty to find out how lying might be damaging your business.
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