Deception isn’t always bad. It can be socially useful, especially in the workplace.
Every election season, the talk is all about lies — who is telling them, who is accusing others of telling them and whose lies are the “worst.”
Having been taught by our moms that falsehood is bad, our instinct is to condemn anyone who tells lies (not just politicians), but the truth is that every single one of us lies every single day. In fact, research shows that on average people tell a (usually small) lie two to three times every 10 minutes.
Even if this is only partly correct, that’s still a lot of fibbing.
So the question isn’t whether lying and liars are always bad, it’s which lies are “OK” and which are not. Here are five workplace examples:
When you are asked if you’re job hunting. This is really an unfair question. You are not required to let bosses or colleagues know you’re looking elsewhere. So if they ask, you are within your rights to just say “no.”
When asked about your politics. Politics is in the air. You may even be a passionate proponent of one side or the other. At work, however, you are much better off maintaining a balanced, even humorous, point of view. After all, arguing rarely changes any minds. (The same goes for other “third rail” subjects, such as religion, gun control, abortion, etc.)
When asked to comment on someone’s appearance. Questions like “Don’t you think the new boss is hot?” are social minefields with no upside for you. Just don’t go there.
When you’re not in the mood to socialize. While it’s good office politics to engage in “team building,” you won’t always feel up to it. However, there’s just no nice way to say, “I don’t want to spend time with you people.” Better to claim a previous engagement or family responsibilities.
When you are asked how you’re doing. You may be feeling overwhelmed, confused, exhausted and angry. But, when asked, say you’re doing “great.” Then ask for help so you feel less overwhelmed, confused, etc.
Don’t get me wrong. Lying about your performance, or someone else’s, is very bad, and you really do want to build a reputation for honesty and integrity. Mom was definitely right about that. At the same time, why trip yourself up with the little things?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.