Are you sometimes ‘economical with the truth’? Would you tell your boss that his fly was undone? (Fibber!) Being willing to offer inconvenient truths is one of the keys to becoming more honest, according to ‘lying expert’ and behavioural economist Dan Ariely.
Ariely also explains the truth about lies. That what many would describe as a ‘white lie’ (including lies of omission and lies of deflection), such as my example about the undone fly, is often the catalyst for a string of further lies. Or the lie becomes a warped reality for the person who tells it, for example the 55 year old woman who believes that she is, in fact, 45.
High profile cases such as that of MIT’s dean of admissions Marilee Jones, who resigned after lying for 28 years about having a Ph.D., and NBC anchor Brian Williams, who left his post after his fabricated tale about taking fire while in a helicopter was exposed as a lie, illustrate the precariousness of the ‘white lie’.
In both cases, the lies began as fairly ‘innocent untruths’ (Dean simply didn’t correct people who believed she had a Ph.D. and Williams said he was confused), but ended in shame and ignominy, both were publicly relieved of their duties.
For many whose lies are found out, they lose their jobs. In the most serious cases, people’s lies can see them sent to jail.
Read on for some of the effects of lying that you may not have considered in addition to Ariely’s suggestions for how to stop yourself from lying.
The corrosive effects of lying
- Lying undermines your credibility. It takes a lifetime to build up a good reputation, but it only takes one lie to destroy it. When someone doubts your motive, they will call into question everything about you, and you will be seen as a liar.
- Lying is an assertion of what you know to be incorrect and so goes against the convention of language.
- Lying treats others as a means to an end, usually a self-serving one.
- It has numerous negative effects and can, in the worst cases, lead to the harm of another.
- When you lie, you are firstly lying to yourself.
Bloomberg has published three simple ways to avoid becoming someone whose lies can lead to public humiliation, courtesy of lying expert Dan Ariely
Don’t Fall Into The "Let’s Do Lunch" Trap
Ariely suggests that this is the sort of lie can easily spiral out of control. It’s a lie if you have no wish to ‘do lunch’ with the person or indeed see them again. We can end up cancelling lunches repeatedly, becoming what Ariely describes as “habitual liars”.
Lying in this way costs us time and makes us feel guilty. It’s also disrespectful to the other person. Instead Ariely suggests pre-empting “your desire to please them". Something such as, “I can’t meet up at the moment for various reasons; if things change I’ll get in touch,” is less likely to “set off a chain reaction” of lies.
Tell Your Friends You’re Not Keen on Their Choice of Boyfriend
Go on, I dare you to tell your BFF you can’t stand her boyfriend. Ariely suggests that offering a dispassionate opinion about something as subjective as your views on your friend’s boyfriend will make you less “self-delusional” and more “objective” about your own problems.
He doesn’t advocate an indiscriminate approach to this, though. If your friend is married with kids, he suggests not being so forthcoming with your opinion. But if there are no kids, he says you should go for it.
Set Up Rules For Yourself
Ariely says that rules “help us be who we want without having to contemplate it every time”. One of his rules is that he will always let someone know if they have something stuck in their teeth. (Your rule could be to always let people know if their fly is undone.) Reassuringly, he says that most of the time, people are grateful. Phew.
See Also: How to Detect Lies Like a Pro
What do you think about these rules? Share your truthful opinion with us – use the comments box below.