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Trust and Mutual Respect: The Cost of Lies

The recent negative headlines about prominent people getting caught lying got me thinking, not so much about why people lie in the workplace, but about the consequences associated with not telling the truth. I don’t believe we are naïve; we recognize that people are frequently tempted to bend the truth to meet their needs. Both small- and large-scale examples of this abound in the corporate world. Thank goodness we have yet to become completely anesthetized to deception when people like network anchor Brian Williams and VA Secretary Robert McDonald get caught “red-handed” misrepresenting themselves to the public.

If you get down to it, lying involves making a deliberate choice to fabricate a truth without letting others know you are doing so; lies reek with intention. People tend to lie because the benefit to do so is greater than the potential cost (at least at the time). But aside from why people lie, the question is what are the real outcomes of this sort of behavior – even when it doesn’t happen as publicly, with well-known figures, and/or when the perpetrators do not get caught? I think this is an important consideration, because in the long run deceit does have far-reaching impact for both those who misrepresent the truth and their audiences.

Foremost lying damages relationships. The leader-member exchange model suggests that the quality of our relationships works in both directions. In business the more opportunities people have to build relationships with leaders based on mutual respect and trust, the more committed they are to those leaders and their organization as a whole. Trust and mutual respect is the glue that holds people together, both personally and professionally. Deception erodes this, regardless if a person or organization makes amends for bad behavior. And while trust and respect take time and energy to build, when violated both are very difficult (if not impossible) to regain in full. Lying always profoundly changes relationships.

So when we espouse the importance of accountability and transparency in organizations, we are really talking about how leaders can avoid deception and model those behaviors necessary to gain commitment and create sustainability. It seems to me that if we keep this in mind we will find there is less benefit to deception than the truth.

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