Sound Advice Thursday: the lying colleague

Dear Steph,

I’m in a bit of an awkward situation. Somebody I interact with on a professional level recently lied to me, like, to my face, and as the tarnished words came out of her mouth, her eyes were totally giving her away. The lie was so stupid and insignificant and most of all, I can’t understand why this person did this, especially considering that in less than 12 hours, it would be so obvious that she lied, and not just to me. I was going to let it go but I’m so curious to find out why she did this and whether she thinks I’m stupid or was it just a childish mistake? Should I confront her since this is work related or just let it go and pretend it didn’t happen? I saw her last week and it’s crickets between us because of this elephant in the room. 


Somebody Make This Stop

Jiminy Cricket has had it up to here with this sh*t
Jiminy Cricket has had it up to here with this sh*t

Dear SMTS,

Liars are the worst, right? We’ve all come across people who, for whatever reason, can’t stop themselves from fibbing, even about stupid, inconsequential stuff. I once knew a guy who used to lie about everything — everything — for seemingly no reason. He’d tell us tall tales about what he got up to over the weekend, the women he supposedly charmed, the victories he’d won — but he’d also lie about petty things, like what he ate for dinner last night. My only conclusion about this guy and his propensity to — embellish, let’s say — was that he just could not help himself. Lying was like breathing for him. I think it probably had something to do with attention-seeking: every story had to be inflated or polished in order to make the storyteller sound grander, braver, smarter, or wittier, even when the stakes were low. I wonder if this same thing is going on with your colleague.

You didn’t say what your colleague — let’s call her Judith — lied about, but there are a bunch of reasons why someone might tell a stupid fib at work. Maybe she messed up and was embarrassed to tell you about it. Maybe she had told the same lie to someone else and was trying to be consistent. Maybe she was trying to wrangle an advantage for herself by withholding information from you. Whatever the reason, Judith lied, and now you’re left wondering why.

But let me ask you: would knowing why she lied really make things better? And, assuming it would make things better, do you think she would actually tell the truth if you confronted her about this? The thing about liars is that, well, they lie. So if you back Judith into a corner and ask her “Why did you lie to me about [x]?”, chances are, she’s gonna lie to you about her reasons for lying to you. I suppose it’s possible that she’d come clean and ‘fess up to her dishonest ways and beg for forgiveness, but the odds are low. And if she did tell the truth, well, then you’d know, I guess, but there would be no guarantee she wouldn’t lie in the future. To paraphrase 3LW, liars gonna lie.

So what do I recommend? Unfortunately, since you say the lie was about something inconsequential, this is one of those situations where you just have to let it go. I realize this is easier said than done, but I think it will save you some grief when dealing with Judith in the future. Instead of maintaining a chilly distance with this woman — which she might very well be oblivious to — I say treat her normally, but keep your sensors up around her. That is, forgive, but don’t forget. In a professional context, it pays to be wary around dishonest people, so be careful with the information you share with Judith, take whatever she says with a large grain of salt, and, to the extent possible, verify what she tells you with someone else, if you must rely on the information she gives you. Realize that if she lied to you once, she’ll probably do it again, and proceed accordingly. But maintaining an awkward silence with her is not going to help matters. Better to just act professionally but keep your guard up for future fibs.

Good luck!


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