When Is It Acceptable To Lie?

by Amy Liu

Robert Feldman, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts, conducted a study designed to determine how many lies the average person tells during a conversation.

Feldman found that 60-percent of people told at least one lie during a 10-minute conversation and, on average, told two to three lies during the same amount of time. Lying happens in our daily lives, both personal and professional, even though we all know it’s not ideal. In my job as VP of Marketing for FirstJob,

I work directly with ambassadors and interns, both across the country and in our office. Each of them is responsible for completing goals and reporting directly back to me about their progress, and nearly every single one of them lies at some point. It goes without saying that you aren’t supposed to lie, especially to a superior in your work place, but sooner or later, it’s going to happen.

Whether it’s covering for a friend who needed to run a quick errand, making up an excuse for being late, or telling a co worker that you’re too busy to hang out that weekend when you really just don’t want to see them, lies (both in and out of work) are bound to happen. Here’s how you can tell the difference between the main types of lies and hopefully not get caught.

Lies, White Lies, and Half-Truths

Everyone is guilty of committing each of these at some point, but you may have not understood the difference between. Lies are flat out fabrications, white lies are fabrications meant to save someone pain, and half-truths are lies of omission (sometimes called a known untruth expressed as truth). Each of these, while morally ambiguous, can be useful at your place of work in the right setting. Used correctly, they can help out a coworker scoring you valuable points, spare someone’s feelings that probably couldn’t take the pain, or keep you out of trouble. Use incorrectly, though, and each of these will come back to bite you.

First off, let’s be clear that lying is never the best policy. If you can be honest, especially at work, then do that. There is less to remember and, of course, no chance of being caught in a lie if you don’t tell one. In some instances, though, you either won’t have the chance to be truthful or perhaps telling the truth will do more harm than good. When you find yourself in a situation where you need to choose between the truth and a lie, keep some of these ideas in mind when making your choice.


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These should be avoided as much as possible because there is a lot less wiggle room for you to explain yourself should you get caught. Lying about being sick when you’re on the beach is a great example of something not to do. The last thing you need is to run into a coworker on the way home or show up to work the next day with a tan. It will immediately look suspicious and discount any trust that your superiors may have gained in you, and it could possibly get you fired if they can prove it.

If you absolutely have to lie, make sure that you have your backstory down perfectly and keep the details simple. Don’t go into excruciating detail trying to make your lie seem more believable because, honestly, no one cares. You’ll probably make people more suspicious than help your cause. It’s also a good idea not to lie about anything directly related to your day-to-day on the job. Saying that you finished a project when you haven’t even started can come back to hurt you and erode trust. If you’ve got to lie, keep it simple and small to mitigate any blowback from possibly getting caught.

White Lies

Everyone has told a white lie before. These are usually telling a girlfriend that she doesn’t look fat in those jeans, or that your boyfriend’s fraternity intramural trophy is a seriously impressive athletic achievement. While, in your personal life, these can be a no-brainer way of staying out of trouble and making someone feel good, give a little more thought to these when it comes to work.

If a coworker asks you how you like the cookies they baked and they make you want to retch, feel free to tell them how great they are before tossing the cookie (and maybe your cookies) in the trash and moving on. If a coworker shows you a project for work that is seriously lacking in direction or inspiration and asks what you think about it, make sure you give them the correct feedback and not just say that it looks great to spare their feelings.

If a substandard product passes your desk and you don’t put in your two cents, respectfully of course, it could come back on you negatively or appear that you don’t care about the quality of your work or your team’s work. Conversely, though, it’s probably a good idea to tell a white lie if your boss asks you what you think of his ugly new tie. Letting him know it’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen won’t do you any favors.

Half-Truths, or Lies of Omission

These can be the trickiest lies for a variety of reasons, mainly because it’s murky water. While all lies are inherently deceitful, half-truths can be especially damaging as you can come across as conniving or manipulative, in addition to deceitful if you get caught. Unlike a regular lie where none of it is truthful, or a white lie that is meant to avoid harm, a half-truth demonstrates clearly that you are knowingly bending the truth.

This means your omission has the potential to be more damaging to your reputation because you are knowingly distorting the facts for your gain and hoping no one is any wiser. While telling a half-truth can work to your advantage in some cases, it can be ruinous if you use it at work. This is especially true if you tell a half-truth to a superior, and you’re found out. While you can possibly mitigate the damage from a white lie, or even an outright lie by steadfastly claiming ignorance, the half-truth doesn’t give you that option which can be crushing if exposed. It’s usually best to only use this scenario professionally for things that would be inconsequential if caught, and try at all costs to avoid it with superiors.

While lying in any situation isn’t advisable, there are many times it’s unavoidable. If you’re at work and you do have to lie, think about what the repercussions may be if you are caught. If it’s worth the risk, consider what type of lie you should tell to mitigate risk and make sure you know your backstory. Keep the details simple; not getting caught could keep you out of hot water but being ousted as an office liar can do serious damage your career.

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