Office Diaries

An insider's guide to success in the workplace

The Thing to Know About Liars

Do liars ever change?

We’ve all come face to face with lies and the people who tell them. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in saying that there are few things as hurtful, harmful and frustrating as a liar. Certainly, the nature and closeness of the relationship has a lot to do with how a lie affects each individual. But even so, I think it’s safe to say that universally, people hate being lied to.

I’m a big believer that while the truth may be hard to hear and can cause a fair amount of discomfort, at least it provides an opportunity for people to see and hear things as they are. Sure, facing betrayal like infidelity on any level feels next to impossible to overcome. But if the cheater has the courage to be honest about it, it also says a lot about the integrity and depth of the relationship. It means there is enough trust for one person to tell the other person the truth. It also means that the one who cheated is willing to bring him or her true self to the relationship, which is not only rare, but the purest form of intimacy.

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In less personal terms, say a friend or a colleague calls a flaw, fault or misdeed to your attention. That can be unpleasant too. But if true, it’s an opening for change that provides an opportunity to make adjustments that can improve your relationships, career and life. So, big picture, how can that be bad?

Lying on the other hand, is a disfigured, contorted mess. It’s not just the cheating spouse who denies any wrongdoing or the politicians who recite the equivalent of Clinton’s, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” when they did. We have bankers – in handcuffs – living out their version of the American dream convinced they’ve done nothing wrong. It’s a dire situation. Liars are everywhere.

I recently asked my friend how she handles dealing with the execs in big oil because I’ve been having trouble lately accepting the duplicity of industry. Big Pharma and Big Farma. Guns. Healthcare. Wall Street. And oil.

She works for a company who monitors the oil industry to make sure it isn’t dumping toxic chemicals into our water and soil. She said it is difficult watching how they operate. Ethical is not a word she would use to describe them. No big surprise there. The fact that her job even exists says enough. But when I asked if they had any awareness of the harm and damage they do, she said, “No.” Instead, they donate millions of dollars to some green effort or two and pat themselves on the backs for all the good they’ve done.

That’s when I realized it’s hopeless. The problem is not the lies they tell us. The problem is they honestly believe the lies they tell themselves.

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Donna Flagg is the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations.

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