As kids, we are taught to value honesty and as adults, we are expected to live by it. But when it comes to dodging a bullet, saving face, avoiding confrontation, or just plain people-pleasing, the truth often takes a back seat and B.S. grabs the wheel.
From little white lies to partial truths to giant whoppers, teens are particularly notorious for sneakiness and deception. But parents and adults are just as guilty– scenarios ranging from the classic “No, honey, you don’t look fat!”, to doctoring a resumé to straight up fraud. According to research from Pamela Meyer, we’re lied to up to 200 times per day. Whoah!
And it’s not just individuals who lie– whole organizations and industries are infamous for deceiving their clientele. The media continues to pump out completely unrealistic photoshopped images to entice consumers, while companies make sweeping guarantees and unsubstantiated claims to sell their products.
Lying is so pervasive and insidious, it often goes completely undetected. In fact, we don’t even need an audience– we can easily deny reality and lie to ourselves about who we are, what we are capable of and what is possible.
So, if we’re all guilty (myself included), then what’s the problem? It’s not that we don’t understand the “what’s in it for me” value of lying, or even the varied and complex motivations that undergird them. The problem is this:
Our B.S. meters are being compromised and we’re suffering the consequences. Hemingway said, “Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him. It also should have a manual drill and a crank handle in case the machine breaks down.” Ladies and gentleman, it’s time for some manual labor because with all of the lies we tell each other and ourselves, we are sacrificing meaningful connections and authenticity.
Lying is an attempt to bridge the gap between who we are and who we want to be without having to do the heavy lifting. But no one ever got in shape by sitting on the couch and claiming they went to the gym. So let’s get to work.
First, strategies for overcoming your own tendencies to avoid the truth:
1. Know your triggers: we all have activating people or circumstances that make us insecure and therefore more susceptible to lying. Maybe it’s your boss, your parents or simply being confronted. Deepen your self-awareness by identifying your triggers and committing to be honest in those circumstances before you’re in the heat of the moment.
2. Walk in someone else’s shoes: compassion and empathy are critical skills for developing deep connections. When you feel inclined to lie, try to imagine yourself on the receiving end. Feeling the repercussions of being lied to often helps to deter dishonest behavior. Sometimes the truth is hard to hear– and therefore hard to speak– but being in integrity is paramount.
3. Think long-term: when you’re tempted to be less than honest, consider your ultimate goal– to have a meaningful relationship, say, or a good reputation. Ask yourself: “What will put me closest to achieving my goal? Lying or speaking the truth?” Then imagine how that goal will be compromised by impulsive or hurtful lies.
Now for some lie-spotting skills! When trying to suss out if someone is telling the truth, check for these research-supported verbal and non-verbal cues:
Classic Verbal Cues:
1. An unrelaxed avoidance of contractions, for emphasis: “I did not” rather than “I didn’t.”
2. Excessive specificity: “I did not steal that $200″ rather than “I’ve never stolen a dime in my life.”
3. A retreat to distancing language: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
4. Repeating a question in full to buy time to formulate a response: “What time did I lock the safe and leave the office on Monday night? Let me think …”
5. Following questions with qualifying statements like “If I can recall”, “to the best of my knowledge”, or “As far as I know…”
Classic Non-Verbal Cues
1. Too much eye contact and for longer stretches because liars believe this will help to “sell” the lie.
2. Stiffness in the upper body and crossed arms
3. Rubbing or touching of the eyes
4. Fiddling with surrounding objects
5. Curling of the feet inward or pointing them to the nearest exit
You are officially equipped to both curtail your own B.S., and call others out on theirs! Honesty truly is the best policy, so practice integrating these skills into your relationships and watch them bloom!