“Morning Geoff. Nice shirt ... I had no idea they made Hawaiian-print corporate wear.”
Do you ever find yourself telling 'little white lies' to avoid conflict, land a deal or look good to a client? While some fibs may be harmless, and even for the greater good of the company, if told without caution, you will likely develop a reputation for being inauthentic – and we all know what happens to boys (and girls) who cry wolf.
1. Don't worry about the latest profit losses, it won't change anything.
It's highly unlikely your team will be fooled by this statement and while this lie is intended to appease and give a false sense of security, it is too often done in a way that is simply overcompensating for your own stress. Let's face it, people can sense when someone is nervous. When the chips are down, the overheads are too high, or a restructure is about to take place, your team want to feel they can discuss it with their line manager in an honest way. Although there may be red tape preventing you from making any announcements until a certain date,, listening to your employees' concerns and assuring them that your focus is on getting the best overall outcome is far more valuable than pretending everything is fine.
Truth: Don't make promises you probably can't keep; just say it like it is. 'Things are rocky, but if we work together, we are more likely to survive this rough patch.'
2. You didn't look nervous at all! Most people giggle nervously through a sales pitch.
Nothing is more annoying than a colleague's inability to give you honest, frank feedback. If one of your staff has botched a presentation, don't tell them they did a great job while trying to move them onto to a less challenging project. This lie is a misguided attempt to be seen as non-combative, but it doesn't serve the other person well at all. We have all been guilty of this and while it may seem the most comfortable option in the moment, your staff member will never be able to learn and grow.
Truth: There is nothing wrong with constructive conflict. Open communication done in a respectful way can serve others well. Just try not to giggle so much next time, OK?
3. We only require you to work 35 hours a week.
This lie comes up when you're trying to win over a new job candidate, and it works a charm in leading them to believe that they've found the ultimate business for work/life balance. If we're being honest, we know that the ebb and flow of business activities are such that some weeks we may have to pick up the slack for others, and other weeks we can afford to be a bit more laissez-faire.
This lie may get bright new staff through the door, but it will likely see them leaving just as quickly. The best way to approach this lie is by setting clear expectations and acknowledging that activities can fluctuate, which affects how the business manages overtime and excess leave accumulation.
Truth: Ensure realistic expectations are defined early on, and manage those expectations with communication.
4. I don't play favourites; all my employees are valuable … um, what's your name again?
Human nature dictates that some personalities are simply going to gel more than others. While a good manager is able to identify their team's strengths and use them regardless of personal bias, too often this just doesn't happen. The best way to combat this lie is to spend personal time with all colleagues and provide a number of opportunities to get their feedback and contributions. When all else fails, subtly ask one of the admin staff to clarify the name or job title of your colleague.
Truth: Don't let those awkward social nuances impede your actual work or the work of your staff.
5. That sounds interesting. Can you send me an email?
We all know what happens to that email from a sales representative or contractor looking for a job ... this fib is a good example of how a little white lie can be detrimental for all parties involved – including yourself. When the sales rep phones to follow-up on their unread email and you avoid the call like the plague, you come across as rude. When the time comes that you do need their services, and inevitably you need something ASAP, they might not be as quick to get back to you.
Truth: Instead of asking for more information, explain that you're not looking for their services at the moment, but may be in touch in the future.
As much a cliché as it sounds, honesty is generally the best policy. The real trick to truth-telling in business is to structure your words in such a way that you don't offend or damage relationships unnecessarily. But, as with any rule, there are exceptions, so when Jane from accounts asks about her hair, the answer is always 'great!'
Alexandra Tselios is a business consultant and publisher of opinion site The Big Smoke. Alexandra has a diverse background in corporate, public and creative fields.