Little White Lies



My thought for the day.. is it ok to lie at work?

One of my co-workers says I am too honest. I say it how it is. And career advisors generally  take the high ground.. “yes you should be honest. Its the ethical thing to do”. And they are right…. In an ideal world.

But we aren’t living in an ideal world.

In the corporate world, being honest can work against you.

Simple white lies can help your sanity when overloaded and generally do no harm when used infrequently ie

  • I didn’t see that email
  • I must have missed that meeting request
  • You are the best boss ever (and other ass kissing)
  • This project will take X days (telling them longer than it will actually take  – see  Beam me up Scotty )
  • Yes boss! – when you disagree with him and/or  know its a bad decision or wrong and are picking your battles. Sometimes its just easier to agree if you know they will ignore your opinion. You don’t want to be seen as negative or “not a team player”. But don’t lie if this could result in a big bad issue (see below)

Then there are lies of omission.

Three years ago I ran a project for my then boss. The project was his idea and he was  “sure it would generate great results”. My 15 years experience with projects identical to this had data that showed it would in fact not generate great results. But he was insistent and confident having been doing this role for all of a  year. So we ran the project. He talked it up to everyone who would listen. Threw money at it. And I managed it to the best of my ability hoping that this time it would prove me wrong (definition of insanity – repeating the same things and expecting different results). Luckily for him,  just before the results came in, he was promoted and left to another group.

The results were far worse than even my data had predicted. The time and money spent on the project was wasted. His successor  (who did know about the project) never asked how it performed. Nor did the other people involved in the project or senior management. However I felt the need to report on it, this was a high profile project at the time and I felt some degree of responsibility.

But before I sent the email to all the stakeholders at the time, I spoke to a close work confidante. She replied “Why would you do this? You know it didn’t work. Nobody is asking about it..” Then she added “X has moved on and so the only person who will look bad is you. And you can’t throw your old boss under the bus now he has gone. That doesn’t look good to your new boss. You are too honest.” So despite my instincts, I saved the email and never sent it. Three years on and its long forgotten. Nobody has asked about it and I don’t tell.

So lies of omission can also work to your advantage.

The last category is BIG BAD LIES. Lies that can cause you, your colleagues or your company significant harm or loss.  Lies that hurt your gut or your conscience. This is probably the category the career advisors are warning you about. And I agree with them.  Don’t give a big bad lie – this will hurt everyone in the long run and isnt worth it..

Not sure what kind of lie it is? Listen to your gut.



2 thoughts on “Little White Lies

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