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Dealing With Lying Co-workers In the Post-Fact Workplace

You've caught your co-worker in another lie, and you're wondering what to do about it. Let's get honest about the co-worker who has a shaky relationship with the truth in a post-fact world!


Another day, another lie. Maybe the lie is uttered by the water cooler, in a meeting or at your desk. Perhaps it's an outright lie of breathtaking proportion, or it's simply another extremely hyperbolic "exaggeration" of the facts.

Sometimes, the lies are big and sometimes the lies are small. You scratch your head wondering why on earth this co-worker would lie about something where the simple truth would easily suffice. Did you really need to lie to me about where you buy your groceries? Why?

Perhaps this co-worker is a habitual liar, or a narcissist? Perhaps they like to lie for the thrill of it? Don't blame Dame Judy Dench, though. She's a national treasure. She wouldn't shoplift just to see if she can get away with it! No lie, Tracey Ullman deserves an Emmy for her Dame Judy Dench impression. It's amazing.


The Post-Fact Workplace?
What worries me lately is our increasingly slippery relationship with truth and consequences. Truth and consequences no longer seem to work together as a pair. The post-fact news cycle -- a.k.a. "I didn't say what I said on national television" -- is front and center every day, forcing us to question if we really heard what we just heard.

What's most alarming is that there seems to be no shame anymore in getting caught in a lie. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but where's the accountability and the mea culpa? Sure, that's an outright misstatement and we have the past statements and data to prove it, but whatevs. We'll just go with the fake news flow.

What remains to be seen is how this broader trend will trickle down into the average workplace. Workplaces have always been bastions of tenuous truth telling, but our workplace relationship with the truth could get trickier if current and future employees buy into the premise that there's no such thing as facts anymore. When we no longer care whether or not someone (or something) is fact-based, and there are no consequences and we get what we want in the end, then why not lie? It works! Facts just get in the way of a good story.

A 2016 survey of adult Americans revealed more than one-third (36%) think it is never okay to tell a lie while nearly two-thirds (64%) think that lying is sometimes justified. When is lying justified, you ask? 58% said it's okay to lie to avoid hurting someone's feelings, for example.

But get this: 52% said it is okay to lie to make a story we're telling a little bit more interesting. Slightly more than half (51%) said it's okay to lie about our age. 47% think it's okay to lie about being sick in order to get a day off. One-third (33%) think it's okay to lie about forgetting an event such as an anniversary. 17% think it's okay to lie on a resume. 13% think it's okay to lie on our tax forms.

So maybe it's no surprise you feel lied to at work. How can you deal with a dishonest co-worker more effectively today, especially if they seem to have no problem with lying like a rug at every opportunity? Here are five tips:

1. Assess the lie itself. What kind of lie is your co-worker telling, exactly? If it's personal boasting or positioning (e.g., "I can survive on two hours of sleep a night, and I've done it with no problem since I was 16") then let it go. It's not worth challenging this type of lying, and everyone else sees right through it, too. If it's work-related -- or worse, seems intended to harm your standing as an employee -- then we have a problem.


2. Create an information trail. Document, document, document. If you've been burned by a co-worker's lies on the job, then start keeping a record of your interactions. Send emails and texts to reiterate what you're doing, or have done, on a project. Make sure to mention any deadlines. Of course, in a post-fact working world, your paper trail might not matter but it's still nice to have one on hand, just in case.

3. Ask follow-up questions. After your co-worker tells a lie, let it lay for a few hours before bringing it up again. "So you were telling me how you [insert lie here]...what happened again?" See if the story is still the same, or if there are any discrepancies in the retelling. It's like playing workplace detective, only more fun! I'm joking of course, but making the lying liars in our work lives sweat through a retelling of their tall tales once in awhile might make them a bit more careful in what they say?

4. Speak with this co-worker. If you decide to approach this co-worker about a particularly egregious lie that's hurting you at work, then approach it with an "I'm just trying to understand" vibe. Say how the "misinformation" afloat is affecting you and work in a few concrete examples. If you're lucky, the employee will own it and apologize. If not, then at least you've addressed it one-on-one with this co-worker before taking it to management. If you feel like you can take it to management, that is.

5. Appreciate your own sense of ethics. Remember, it's this co-worker's web of lies to keep straight, not yours. They have to look at themselves in the mirror every day, knowing that they have a problem with the truth. That's not a fun way to live. You, on the other hand, can sleep well at night with a clear conscience. That's a wonderful thing.

Accountability Still Matters
If you're in management, it's time to reward employees for owning their mistakes and allowing the buck to stop with them. You might start handing out awards for ethical behavior, for example, along with bonuses for meeting quotas. I really like the way you stepped up to own that mistake last month on the project. Here's a gift card from us for being so accountable. Keep up the good work!

Imagine the ripples such an award would send through the average department. Wait, management rewarded my co-worker for admitting to a mistake?!Yes, it did. Boo-yah. You have the power to make accountability happen, managers!

In a post-fact world, employees with good ethics will need to be rewarded for their accountability more than ever before. It takes a backbone of steel to raise our hand at work and say: "It was my mistake." Employees in all fields of endeavor need to know that the truth still matters, and that it still means something at the end of the day. So be true to employees, will you?



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