These days, many of us can’t help feeling that the people who cut corners, shift blame, fudge the truth or just brazenly tell outright lies are gaining in number and influence every day.
If your boss is one of these people, it becomes personal. The pressure to “play ball” can be intense. You might even end up saying, I can’t beat them — I have to join them.
But, truly, you don’t. It is possible to maintain your integrity while working for a dishonest boss, at least long enough to find yourself an honest one.
You do this by focusing on your work while maintaining high standards for trustworthiness and rectitude.
If the day arrives when you’re asked to back up a falsehood, pause, smile and in a neutral voice say, “That feels unethical to me. I’m just not comfortable doing that.” Or try repeating the request — hearing how bad it sounds may cause your boss to reconsider the idea. Or, if you can, suggest an ethical alternative. More often than you’d think, these approaches are very effective.
It can also help to realize that your boss likely doesn’t lie 100% of the time. Some of what you hear is going to be true. So you’ll need to learn how to spot the fake smiles, excessive blinking, fidgeting, exaggerated eye contact and other “tells” of a liar.
Another tip: Look for the intention behind a lie. Sometimes people exaggerate or downplay truth in an effort to boost morale and spare feelings. If your boss’s lies seem intended for the common good, and not part of a pattern of corrupt behavior, you might find a way to live with them, at the same time remembering that a person who lies about one thing tends to also lie about others. Dishonesty is too often a sign of deep insecurity. Be forewarned.
And, of course, be working on your exit strategy, because that’s typically where these situations lead. Your boss is an adult. Chances are that lying is a baked-in behavior that, on some level, feels normal. As an employee, you can do little to change this behavior. Just remember the old advice that if you refuse to tell the little lies, no one will ask you to tell a big lie.