Dishonesty is not new, but let’s be honest—our society has raised the rationalization of dishonesty to an art form.
Ralph Keyes wrote, “Dishonesty inspires more euphemism than copulation or defecation.” And when you think about it, he is correct.
When it comes to the truth, we embellish, expand, enrich, soften, shave, stretch, and withhold. We misspeak, pretend, bend, and improve. We are guilty of mistakes, misjudgment, and truthful hyperbole. We exaggerate, spin, filter, and inflate.
However, we rarely—or perhaps even never—believe that we are guilty of dishonesty.
That is a problem because things need to change in our families, communities, organizations, and country. And, nothing ever changes until we are able to tell each other the truth.
The Impact of Dishonesty
Forget the legal implications of dishonesty for a moment. We all know that you can go be sued or even go to jail for blatant acts of dishonesty that violate the law.
On a practical level, dishonesty destroys trust. And, trust is the foundation for every successful relationship. The banking and mortgage crisis that plunged the world into this recession was, at its heart, a matter of dishonesty. The leading cause of divorce is communication, and the lack of communication is ultimately a matter of honesty with someone you have promised to share your life with.
A study conducted by University of Massachusetts psychologist Robert S. Feldman reports that 60 percent of people lie at least once in a 10-minute conversation. The average person tells two to three lies in that time.
The statistics about people who lie to get a job are overwhelming. The percentage of resumes that contain lies ranges from 25 to 60 percent depending on which survey you read.
There is a financial impact as well. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, one in four employees has committed or witnessed workplace fraud. Fraud costs U.S. Business more than $4 billion annually.
Why We Do It
Here are five common reasons for being dishonest:
• We lie to make others feel better.
• We lie to make others feel worse or set them up to fail.
• We lie to make ourselves feel or look better.
• We lie to shift the responsibility or blame.
• We lie to gain an advantage.
Do any of them ring true for you?
There are only two reasons that MIGHT have any justification:
1. To gain an advantage in a time of crisis, war, or as a bluff when the truth is not expected as part of the process. General Dwight Eisenhower once said that he felt no remorse for intentionally deceiving Hitler about the location of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Likewise, what fun would a game of Poker be if no one ever bluffed?
2. To make others feel better. There are times when it is (or at least feels) important to bolster the confidence of another person. Even that can have unintended bad consequences. Have you ever told someone that a dish they served was excellent when it wasn’t … and then have them serve it to you again and again because they believe it to be your favorite?
How about the old, “Honey, does this look good on me” question? I understand that there are differences in taste. But, let’s turn the tables for a moment. Would you want to go out thinking you look great when you didn’t? How about if you found out that someone told you something just to make you feel better and it wasn’t true.
Here’s the point: the failure to be honest is—more times than not —driven by the desire to feel better, look better, avoid blame, or gain an advantage without any of the work that should precede the benefit.
Until we are honest about dishonesty, elected officials will continue to be viewed with cynicism and skepticism; relationships will deteriorate to a point where they can no longer be repaired; managers will not hear what’s going on in our organizations; and everyone will look out for themselves to the point that we all suffer.
The worst part is that you know what others know – that you are a fraud.