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The Truth about Lies in the Workplace

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You Work with a Bunch of Liars—Learn What to Do About It

Sure, everyone tells little white lies now and then, but real deception in the workplace is a poison that can destroy relationships, careers, and companies. Carol Kinsey Goman, a leading workplace body language expert, combines her own experiences with the latest research to identify fifty subtle physical and vocal cues that will enable you to spot destructive workplace lies. She analyzes the role we play in supporting lies—how our own vanities, desires, self-deceptions, and rationalizations allow us to be duped. And once you detect a lie, she provides tactical advice on how to respond, whether the liar is above, below, or on the same level as you—even if it’s your boss.

“Lying in the workplace causes huge problems for business—the proper people do not get promoted, profits are generally compromised, wrong steps are made, and much more. This book should be a best seller.”
—Robert L. Dilenschneider, President and CEO, The Dilenschneider Group, and author of Power and Influence and A Briefing for Leaders

“After 30 years in the training and development industry, I have come to trust Goman’s expertise in body language and nonverbal cues in the workplace. I would recommend this book to any leader working to improve culture and effective communication within his or her organization.”
—Margie Mauldin, President, Executive Forum

“Goman’s book sheds light on a phenomenon in business that too many of us prefer to [pretend] doesn't exist: deception. A must-read for emerging and established leaders alike.”
—JD Schramm, EdD, Director, Mastery in Communication Initiative, Stanford University Graduate School of Business

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Chapter 1 Liars at Work

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YOU WORK WITH A BUNCH OF LIARS.

You’re a liar, yourself.

So am I.

That’s the truth.

But wouldn’t it be nice if it weren’t? Wouldn’t it be convenient if the workforce were divided neatly into “us” versus “them”? We, of course, would be the good guys who were always up front and truthful. They would be the rotten apples whose destructive lies betray the confidence placed in them and ruin everything for the rest of us. If that scenario were valid, imagine how simple it would be to create totally candid corporate cultures: the human resources (HR) department could develop a test for truthfulness to eliminate liars before they were hired, promotions could be awarded to the most honest employees, and alert managers could weed out any extrawily deceivers who somehow slipped in and were later exposed.

But if the truth is that we’re all liars—if the line between “us” and “them” is not as definitive as we’d like to think—how in the world do we deal with lies in the workplace? That’s the question that makes this subject so provocative and leads to a host of issues that I will be addressing throughout the book.

 

Chapter 2 Deception Detection: 50 Ways to Spot a Liar

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YOUR BOSS TELLS YOU, “THIS CHANGE IS FOR THE BEST,” BUT as she speaks you notice her awkward body posture and forced smile. Is she being honest with you?

Your co-worker says he’d be happy to help you with your project, but he seems to pause a long time before answering—and while he’s talking, his eyes stay focused on his computer monitor. Can you trust what he says?

“You can count on my support.”

“It wasn’t my fault.”

“You are next in line for a promotion.”

Really?

Wouldn’t it be great to know when you’re being lied to? And wouldn’t it be nice if exposing falsehoods were as easy as it is portrayed on television shows like The Mentalist and NCIS? Of course, human beings are more complex—and subtly devious—in real life than they are as portrayed on television. As frequently encountered as deception is in the real world, its detection for most people remains as much a matter of intuition as of science.

There is no single verbal or nonverbal behavior that automatically means a person is lying. In fact, much of “lie detection” is actually “stress detection.”

 

Chapter 3 Why We Believe Liars and Play into Their Hands

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BERNARD MADOFF, MASTER MANIPULATOR AND WORLD-class fraud, bilked thousands of investors out of roughly $20 billion over a period of some 40 years.1 Have you ever wondered why so many people trusted him for so long?

The answer is simple, really: Like all master frauds, he was totally convincing. He had the right credentials, wore the right clothes, belonged to the right clubs, socialized with the right people, and dropped the right names at the right moments—without appearing to be doing anything more sinister than telling an anecdote about an old friend who just happened to be well positioned and well respected. But just as important as all that, people trusted Madoff because they wanted to trust him.

How do I know? Because that’s human nature. And anyone who thinks he or she is too sharp to be taken in by a con man like Bernie Madoff had better read this chapter with particular care.

Recognizing that we are being lied to is an important social and business skill. If it were only a matter of paying closer attention to verbal and nonverbal cues, all that we’d require to become polished deception-detectors is in the previous chapter. But it’s not that simple. Surprisingly small factors—where we meet people, what they wear, what their voices sound like, whether their posture mimics ours, if they mention the names of people we know or admire—can enhance their credibility to the extent that it actually nullifies our ability to make sound judgments about them. Our own unconscious biases, vanities, desires, and self-deceptions only add to the hijacking of our reason. When we put our faith in a co-worker we don’t really know, or hire someone we haven’t properly vetted, or give our life savings to a seemingly nice man on the basis of good vibes, we almost always do so for reasons of which we are completely unaware.

 

Chapter 4 How to Deal With Liars

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“WHICH WORKPLACE LIARS ARE YOU MOST GRATEFUL FOR?

Audiences are often startled into silence when I pose this question. But after a little encouragement and few minutes’ reflection, they begin to come up with some interesting answers:

“I like liars who say, ‘That’s a nice jacket’ and don’t mention the 10 pounds I’ve gained. What’s that—a lie of omission?”

“I’m grateful for co-workers who ask me how my project is going, even if they’re just being polite.”

“My team leader tells us what a great job we’re doing. We all know it’s not the truth, but we try to live up to her expectations.”

So, how about you? Which liars—and lies—make your business interactions more pleasant, energizing, and friendly? As you start this chapter about dealing with liars, it’s good to remember that not all liars need to be “dealt with.” Some, in fact, should be thanked.

But as you already know, not all liars are benevolent. Some spread malicious gossip that can damage reputations and derail careers, some take undue credit and kill team morale, and some lie about behaving unethically or illegally and have a negative impact on the entire organization.

 

Chapter 5 Do You Look Like a Liar?

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SOME YEARS AGO I RECEIVED A PHONE CALL FROM A NEW York business executive who asked if I could coach him about a problem he was unable to resolve on his own.

The problem was that despite all of his widely acknowledged abilities and accomplishments, this gifted man was consistently passed over for promotion by senior management. Why? Because along with being brilliant, he was also shy, soft-spoken, gentle, and naturally self-effacing—qualities that made him a joy to work with but which were misidentified by C-suite executives as withdrawn, withholding, uncertain, insincere, and even deceptive.

Could I coach him? Of course I could.

Did we have a happy ending? Of course we did because, in this client’s case, it was easy. After our first session he realized that his advancement was being sabotaged by a variety of unconscious gestures, postures, and speech mannerisms. By our third and final session, he had made key behavioral changes without in any way changing who he was fundamentally, and he was finally getting the positive attention of senior leaders.

 

Chapter 6 Reducing Lies in the Workplace

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ONE OF MY MOST FREQUENTLY REQUESTED SEMINAR TOPICS today deals with the power of collaborative leadership. Why? Because there is a perception shared by more and more business executives that if they want their organizations to continue to thrive in the global marketplace, they must replace traditional, top-down, command-and-control leadership structures with more-inclusive, “silo-busting” networks to tap the collective wisdom, experience, and creativity of the entire workforce.

The key to making that essential shift is knowledge sharing, and the key to knowledge sharing is trust—which brings me back to the subject of this book: lying. As you already know, trust and lying cannot coexist.

Trust is the belief or confidence that one party has in the reliability and the integrity of another—the confidence that one’s faith in the other will be honored in return. Dishonesty destroys trust. Once you discover you’ve been lied to, trust simply vanishes—more often than not forever. And with it goes the very foundation for collaboration.

 

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