Workplace lying is a two-way street. The damaging top-down lies from management and the equally destructive bottom-up lies from staff.
Here are some of the worst examples.
The CEO wants everyone to ...
This is something that is easy to miss. I've heard many stories of people being fooled by staff members saying that they're acting on behalf of senior staff members.
"The CEO said to cancel the trip". Really? Did they? It is always good to go and seek clarification. If you didn't see it or hear it with your own eyes or ears, be a little cautious about what you accept as fact.
Unfortunately, it is easy for someone that works closely with a person in power to go on an ego trip and totally misrepresent what that powerful person's opinions are. You're often not in a position to go and ask the powerful person directly, so you assume that their right-hand person is telling you the truth.
A colleague of mine once got told that if they didn't take a new position that they were acting in, the CEO wouldn't give their substantive job back and they would be made redundant. None of this was true. When my colleague went and sought clarification, the CEO was gobsmacked.
From the other side, it can be very difficult for very senior people in organisations to know what is being said or what instructions are being issued in their name. They don't hear the office gossip and most people don't feel comfortable to speak with them openly and directly.
If you are someone that is comfortable seeking clarification calmly and respectfully from senior people, you have rare skills.
Experience or qualifications
Lying about your competence, experience, skills or qualifications is a dangerous game. Firstly, if you've over-represented your skills to a manager they are going to assume you are handling things. You're not going to want to ask questions that uncover your lack of experience and if you run into something you're unsure about, you won't want to ask.
When you finally have to confess to your line manager that work is not done, or not to standard or that you don't really know what you're doing ... oh boy.
But don't forget that under-representing yourself can be just as destructive. Managers miss potential in workplaces all the time. Be upfront about your strengths and areas where you need more guidance and tell your manager what you can and can't do. If you could be offering more, take the opportunity and let it be known!
The cover up
"Don't tell anyone" ... the awful invitation to participate in a workplace lie can be a dreadful situation that hits you right in the value system. When in doubt, speak out.
If you know something is happening that will hurt the reputation of the business or is hurting customers or your colleagues, fast forward and imagine that the whole story is discovered.
What role would you rather have played? If you are worried about the consequences of speaking up, investigate whether your organisation has a confidential whistleblower service. Often whistleblower services operate after hours and you can make a report about misconduct in complete privacy.
We have workplace values
Speaking of values, there is something particularly hideous about workplaces that have values on the wall about being equitable and respectful (or whatever they happen to be) when no one in the workplace is upholding any of them.
Values are not aspirational. They are supposed to be the 'way things are done around here'.
Hands up who HASN'T worked in an organisation where the values were in complete contrast to the behaviour of people on the floor (especially the senior people)? Come on, senior people. Get it together.
As Brené Brown says, shame and blame never change people's behaviour. People may respond to you out of fear, but this does not inspire meaningful or lasting change.
On a side note, a particular peeve of mine is workplace values that are acronyms: "Our workplace values are Caring, Respect, Acceptance and Performance and can be easily remembered as C.R.A. - " OK, so no one ever got THAT acronym over the line for their workplace values poster, but my point remains.
It would be awesome if life principles could also spell out handy, easy to remember words, but surely it is more important to get the values right, than change them to get a word out of them.
That's all for now, but in the meantime, don't forget: WIDSO (When In Doubt, Speak Out). Surely everything is forgiven when it rhymes. Go well, everyone!
Dr Christine Brown is a psychologist, manager and executive coach.