The Big Problem with Little White Lies

The Big Problem with Little White Lies post image

When’s the last time you sat in a meeting and heard a “little white lie”?

Sure, what they presented was “technically” the truth. The statistics they presented were real, but no one walked away with the full story. Perhaps you found yourself wondering “do they really think I’m that stupid?”

“White lies introduce others of a darker complexion.”
~William Paley

We all have different triggers and thresholds. I’ve come to learn that my white lie-detector is set to quick frustration. I go from skeptical to spitting teeth in a matter of seconds.

I suspect I’m not alone.

Little white lies come in many forms

  • spin
  • strategic ambiguity
  • manipulated data
  • left out facts
  • embellished stories
  • hedging
  • broken promises
  • covering our butts
  • ?

Little white lies can…

  • be easy
  • get you out of jam
  • buy you time
  • shift blame
  • destroy your relationships
  • derail your career

If you tell a little lie, we question…

  • where did these numbers come from?
  • did you tell me the truth last time?
  • what else do i need to dig into?
  • what aren’t you telling me?
  • are you for real?
  • do you have my back?
  • should I work with you again?
  • can I trust you?
  • ?

Great Leaders Don’t BS

It takes courage to…

  • Admit when we’ve screwed up
  • Share the whole truth
  • Lift up problems
  • Tell the whole story
  • ?

Ask Yourself These Truths…

  • When you present do “they” know you are sharing the whole view?
  • Would they work with you again?

Please comment: Is there a place for “little white lies” in business?
Does it always pay to tell the truth?

What are the downsides?
Filed Under:   Communication
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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What People Are Saying

Eric Dingler (@EricDingler)   |   15 February 2013   |   Reply

Great topic. It’s easy to say never lie. But then “that situation” comes up. I’d say the greatest challenge is “left out facts”. I guess it all depends on the motive there. If the motive is to deceive or manipulate…it’s wrong. If it’s to protect….maybe it’s okay. The others on the list “Little White Lies Come In Many Forms”….the are all simply wrong. For me, it’s always the omitting facts that I struggle with.

Karin Hurt   |   15 February 2013   |   Reply

Eric, I agree… the omitting facts one can be so dangerous. I also agree that there are times that with the right motive softening messages can be important.

Steve Borek   |   15 February 2013   |   Reply

The majority feel if they’ve failed in some way it makes them look weak. So they cover it up or lie.

Fact is, once you lie, you’ve lost credibility. Nobody follows a leader without credibility.

letsgrowleaders   |   15 February 2013   |   Reply

Steve, thanks so much… you raise an important point on why this happens…

Patti   |   15 February 2013   |   Reply

Good morning, Karin.
It seems we often hear “partial truths” from so many leaders. This creates a certain level of distrust among the “rank and file” so that in the future, even if the leader is telling the complete truth, their “followers” will always be a bit skeptical. As Steve mentioned, the credibility has been compromised.

John   |   15 February 2013   |   Reply

We, all too often, get caught up in the mantra that perception is reality, and that causes many leaders to stumble. People are afraid of letting the cat out of the bag and in doing so may ruin their own credibility, all in the name of self preservation. When faced with the options of “damned if I do, damned if I don’t,” it seems for some that the best option is the path of least resistance.

letsgrowleaders   |   15 February 2013   |   Reply

John, So great to have you adding to the conversation. You raise a very important dynamic that can lead to a slippery slope.

Larry   |   16 February 2013   |   Reply

A very important topic. I think in business, politics, and media today “spinning” has become so commonplace that moral and ethical sensitivities have been broadly undermined and the credibility of all of those “institutions” have been shattered. Mis-representation is the expected norm. Fact checkers have become an essential component of virtually any significant communication arena. “Tis true, tis pity; Tis pity tis true”

letsgrowleaders   |   16 February 2013   |   Reply

Larry, thanks so much for joining the conversation. Great to see you here again. Imagine if all the energy and expense of “fact checkers” could be spent on working toward problem solving instead.

Hruthwik   |   18 February 2013   |   Reply

Spot on Karin!

Gini   |   20 February 2013   |   Reply

Good article and great points in all the comments. I agree that sometimes it’s okay not to tell the whole story, but have a real problem with white lies. With a little effort you can usually be truthful without hurting someone. The problem is once you get used to telling lies – even small ones – it becomes easier to tell more. Our mothers and grandmothers knew this, they didn’t need ethics training to learn in. We also have to be careful with the line between telling all we know and gossip. Comes down to think before you speak