I was a pretty sneaky teenager. I’d tell my parents I was going over to a friend’s house when instead I was meeting somebody who my parents wouldn’t approve of. Although this is a mundane example, it gets worrying when it carries on into adult relationships. If you’ve ever had relationships with anyone (and I’m guessing, you have!) you’ll know that our childish antics sometimes never die. It’s even harder when you work with a sneaky liar or you can’t just ditch them.
We all lie. Scientific studies show that different contexts will justify our propensity to stretch the truth. A lie I told recently to my five-year old niece was that she couldn’t go on the incredibly dangerous and scary looking climbing wall in the middle of the park because they had sold out of tickets. When she asked the ticket seller if that was true, I stared at the woman intently and nodded my head so that she would play along. My need to protect my niece outweighed my moral view of lying and I think it did for the ticket seller too.
Putting to one side narcissistic disorders, people lie for all kinds of reasons.
Some people might do so to hide their incompetence and to appear confident, knowledgeable or interesting. These are all needs that we have in one way or another.
It could also be about survival. They may have made a mistake and feared the consequences of the truth. It could mean being fired, facing legal consequences or losing an important relationship.
In reality, the truth is not a fixed concept but instead an interpretation of events that have happened. This could be obvious. However, the facts can be manipulated to bring about a version of the truth. It’s what juries have to do when they decide a case as each side to a conflict will present the facts in a slightly different way. You might not even be intending to deceive; it may genuinely be your interpretation of the truth. Memories, after all, can distort over time.
The truth as you interpret it, can make you feel vulnerable. Lies can therefore, provide a shield against a perceived threat, a reaction to conflict or negative consequences.
We all do this. We all lie to ourselves about what we feel, what we want and what we deserve. It’s not until we start being honest with ourselves that we really start to communicate sincerely with others.
As I wrote in my previous posts about dealing with difficult people, it’s not them that are the problem. It’s their behaviour that needs to be tackled.
Here’s what to do about lies
Firstly, ask yourself what the impact of the lie is on you. Yes, it can be frustrating when somebody lies to you but is it worth confronting if you know that all it will do is lead to conflict?
Be careful with your own words. Directly confronting somebody by calling them a liar will make them angry and defensive. You might be wrong about them lying which, for obvious reasons, will back-fire.
If a person over-commits or is unreliable, make sure you have a back up plan. If you know that somebody always says that they can do something important for you but never does, don’t call out their lies. Instead, make alternative arrangements or politely refuse and look for other solutions.
If you suspect that the lie will be denied (“that’s not what I said” or “you’re imagining it”), write down your conversations with this person. This is good for your own sanity and will help you constructively counter somebody’s lies.
Instead of directly confronting a person you suspect is lying, ask them questions like, “how do you know that?” or “what proof of that do you have?” or “can you give me more details about that?” Open questions about the source of information or something that occurred will highlight that you are not willing to accept the lies.
Empathy will help if a person’s lies have been found out, especially if they were lying out of desperation. It will help to communicate that you understand why they lied and recognise that they must feel exposed. It’s also a good idea to thank them for their honesty. This is important if you want to continue a relationship with the person who has lied.
The best advice that I can give is to be honest with yourself. Make sure that people understand that trust and honesty are the keystone of your relationship with them, in whatever context. If you can’t rely on what they say, if you don’t trust their words or you feel frustrated with the lack of connection and intimacy dishonesty creates, then move on from the relationship. You deserve better.
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment!