We are bombarded with lies every day. Jerald Jellison, a psychologist at the University of Southern California, claims people are lied to about 200 times a day. If you break it down, that works out to more than 12 lies an hour based on a 16 hour day. I left 8 hours for sleeping. That’s a ton of lies – around 73,000 a year. Another psychologist, Charles Honts at Boise State University, believes people lie in about 25 per cent of their social interactions. That means we lie in one out of four interactions. They could be big, bold-faced lies or little lies. A lie is a lie. A British video rental determined that 30% of patrons claimed they had watched The Godfather when they had not. Why would you lie about seeing the Godfather? What’s the upside of doing that? Bizarre. So, why do we lie? And why so often? According to psychologists, people tell lies for several reasons:
- Fear of punishment. I remember getting a whack with a wooden spoon from my mother when she caught my brother or I lying. As kids, we were quickly conditioned that lying carried significant consequences. If you lied and got caught, you were punished. Punishment was not always physical like the feared wooden spoon; it could be a loss of privileges, a grounding, a withholding of an allowance, extra chores (especially the dirty ones), a stern talking to and confinement to your room, to name a few. Lying is one way of avoiding punishment.
- To avoid hurting someone’s feelings. A person may ask “How do you like my ______ [fill in the blank]. The empty blank could be cooking, makeup, house furnishings and decor, yard appearance, car, jewelry, clothing or pet. If the feedback is negative, the person may lie so they don’t hurt the other person’s feelings.
- To protect someone else. You may tell a lie so that someone else doesn’t get into trouble. For example, you wouldn’t “rat out” your friends for a wrong you collectively committed. If you were caught, you would tell your friends: “Don’t worry. I won’t mention your name.” Or, “I won’t tell them you were involved.” It’s a technique used to remove others from blame and to focus it on yourself.
- To avoid conflict. You don’t want to argue with or engage in conflict with another person, so you lie to them and tell them their approach to solving the problem or issue is brilliant when, in your heart of hearts, you think it is the stupidest thing you have ever heard. I’ve seen this before in work strategy development sessions where a domineering, aggressive person takes control of proceedings and tries to impose their will on the group. They want to do things their way and everyone else better fall in line. In these cases, lying becomes the path of least resistance.
- To influence. Unfortunately, I see this technique used a lot by sales people where they want you to buy a certain product or service. You may hear things like: “I’ve used this product all my life and it works wonders for me. I swear by it.” Or, “This product will make you 20 years younger.” Another lie is the one told by car sales people. When asked if they have the authority to negotiate price, the salesperson says yes. Five minutes later, the salesperson says: “I don’t have the authority to negotiate price. I have to talk to my Sales Manager.” Sound familiar?
- To achieve a positive outcome. The first thing that comes to mind with this approach is the lying that goes on in the employment recruitment process. I have encountered so many people who have lied on their resumes and in the interview process with the goal of getting the job. The consequences are dire though if they get caught. It will result in their elimination from the recruitment process.
- To make you look good. I’ve seen this at work with colleagues who will tell blatant lies to not only their co-workers but to their boss. They will stand up at meetings and spout bold-faced lies about things they allegedly accomplished. These folks are hoping that their lie, no matter how small or big, will make them look good and possibly enhance their chances of promotion or perhaps getting a raise.