Managing a Liar
If you’ve ever worked in the corporate world, you know that some of your colleagues don’t always tell the truth. They may withhold information from you, selectively interpret what you have said or conveniently misinterpret things. They may not even recollect what they or you said to them. Conveniently.
I recently had a conversation with somebody who called me a fraud. I was a bit shocked by this as I couldn’t understand why they had this impression of me. I felt angry as it was insulting, but also a little bit conflicted. On the one hand, I could respond with anger, as I really wanted to. On the other hand, I could take a step back and be curious about this. I asked for more details, in particular, what was it that I had said that made this person think this. Perhaps he had misunderstood something or had not fully understood. They couldn’t answer me. I just was, apparently, a fraud.
Oddly, when I referred back to that comment in the conversation to ask for an apology given the offence it had caused, the person replied that they had not said that. I had imagined it. This is a classic example of gaslighting and frighteningly toxic behaviour. I won’t tolerate it and neither should you!
Interestingly, I felt a lack of control. The rules I had been used to, no longer seemed to apply. Respect and politeness are the basics of professional conduct but it’s always good to be reminded that this is not followed by everyone.
How do you know somebody is a liar?
Before jumping to conclusions, firstly you need to fact check your own perception of this person by asking yourself the following questions:
- Have they misinterpreted what I said or done?
- Have I expressed clearly what I wanted to say?
- Is there a way to bypass this person – can you ask somebody else to confirm what happened/ what was said?
In other words, there could be an explanation for the difference in interpretation of an event. Take my friend Peter, who told a colleague about a managerial decision affecting them both. The way that he recounted it implied that his position would be favoured by the director but when his colleague asked management about it, this was not the case. This was not a lie, it was a misinterpretation on Peter’s part because the initial message had not been communicated appropriately. This is why communication is so important. Misinterpretations, misunderstandings can cause conflict and at worst, create opportunities to manipulate.
Tips to Manage a Liar
The most important way to deal with a liar is not to get angry. I know how hard this is. Believe me. However, if you want to make sure the person lying does not get the upper hand, don’t act on impulse. Get some distance. Take a break, discuss with somebody, read my blog (!) but don’t respond until you are calm.
- Document everything. Especially, if you know the person will deny what you said. Keep a journal, specially for that purpose. Write down the date, the time and the people present. Include the key points of discussion. You can refer back to that note when the person denies what they said. If you agree on something, email the points of agreement and ask for them to confirm or amend your recollection of the discussion. This is particularly helpful if the lie is told months after the event.
- Turn the conversation around. It’s no longer an “I said, you said” discussion because the facts are written down. Focus on being curious about why the person has a different interpretation of the truth.
- Don’t accuse anybody of lying. Some things are better left unsaid. This will only exacerbate conflict. Insulting somebody is a signal that you have lost control of the situation and once you have done that, it’s hard to regain it. This is especially true in the a work environment. Don’t sink to their level, it looks bad on you!
- Instead, refer to the lie as a misinterpretation or misunderstanding. Use phrases such as, “let me clarify as I believe there has been a misunderstanding,” or “it seems that you may have misinterpreted what happened,” or “I do not recall this in the same way that you have.” This takes away the sting of any unintentional insult.
Dealing with a liar can be infuriating. It can deflate and demotivate you, especially when you have to deal with them on a day-to-day basis. It’s especially difficult when there is a need for you to stay in a relationship with them. A landlord, a work colleague, a manager or a relative. Gain control by following my tips and feel free to leave a comment or more advice for other readers!