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The Invention of Lying

It was back in 2009 when the ‘The Invention of Lying’, starring Ricky Gervais, came onto the big screen. The film was a hit, not least because of its controversy surrounding religion and atheism, but because it was comical to see Mr Gervais’ character, Mark Bellinson, discover the art of lying for the first time. He had been living in a world where everybody tells the truth, meaning that cruel but honest opinions were the norm. His discovery meant that his career was successful and his progress through life rapid. With his newfound ability to comfort people with lies, he had better opportunities, became richer and, almost, got the girl.

Please don’t try this at home folks. Liars are almost always caught out and even quite mild lies can bite you on the nose. Lying might sometimes create an advantage, but often it doesn’t. Take the recent case of disgraced ex-Chris Huhne and his former wife Vicky Pryce. After lying over a speeding fine, they have been sent to prison.

In an online survey of 820 HR professionals, nearly fifty percent confessed that they told between one and four lies a week at work. Quite shocking on the surface, but let’s face it – we’ve all lied at some point. People lie for many reasons. At work, it might be to please someone, bring in new business, to gain an advantage, or avoid some form of sanction. Sometimes a little social white lie is necessary to maintain a relationship.

You know the sort of thing; you agree with someone that her new dress is pretty and suits her (when really you think it’s hideous and makes her look like a sofa). Sometimes it’s a full blown porky to intentionally deceive someone, for example, fabricating qualifications to get a job. That’s rather more doubtful.

Telling lies can get you in serious trouble, and its effects in the workplace can be negative and far reaching. The problem is that if an employee is caught out in any but the whitest of white lies, thereafter you always have doubts about their truthfulness. If the employee in question is customer facing, the dishonesty of one person can taint the rest. Lies can create an atmosphere of distrust and cynicism and shred workplace relationships.

The good news is there are several ways of building a truthful workplace culture. 

Be clear about the standards you expect. Be a role-model. If you’re open and honest with everybody, this rubs off on your employees. Encourage open and objective communication. If you have honest communication, you
won’t have toadying behaviour. And that might well mean you have to hear things that are challenging. Be prepared to consider and tolerate them. When employees make mistakes deal with the situation constructively. Reward employees for honest language and behaviour. Address inappropriate and dishonest behaviour.

Telling the truth isn’t always easy, but integrity is prized by customers, so honesty is important for business success. You will be able to develop better strategies and create more harmonious teams if you can develop a culture of honesty.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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