What to do when someone is lying? Answering this question is critical in any environment but is especially so in a changing environment. The organization is at risk to destabilize, the team is disoriented teetering towards falling apart and now a key player is mucking around with the truth and being dishonest. Addressing this is critical if power is to be shuttled in the right direction so stakeholders can adapt behavior accordingly and the associated costs are kept to a minimum.
What has helped is dividing the possible response into two broad categories – moral and emotional. Why? My experience is the dishonesty is about protecting something – position, reputation, etc. In other words, there is a feeling of vulnerability about which the individual is at a loss in terms of knowing what to do so they invent something to protect themselves. It becomes their “truth.” I’ve found it best to refer to it simply as emotional dishonesty. What’s behind this approach?
Keeping in mind the goal is the team pulling together to keep the project on track there is a distinct advantage to finding what the vulnerability is and see if the individual will consider doing the work it takes to get through the difficulty and take themselves up a notch in performance and add to the team.
Why do this? After all, the person did lie. Wouldn’t it be simpler to make a moral judgment and write the person off? The short answer is, “We are all human.” It means we have a shadow side that takes a lifetime of work to integrate into the rest of our personality. It means that given a chance to do that work the individual just might get to a better spot and be even better. Assuming the damage the lie causes is reparable and the value the individual provides can go beyond that damage then it is worth the investment.
The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius sums it in his Meditations well when asking what to do with difficult people who create challenges. His answer, paraphrased, is, “Work with them, only humans are available to get the job done.” If the person is challenged on moral grounds it only heightens their desire to protect themselves. That becomes their “truth.”
Aurelius saw that in complex situations vulnerability goes up so getting frustrated with dishonesty and making moral judgments can be self-defeating. He also saw in doing this work and showing a disciplined compassion you take your place as a leader worth following. The odds of success go up.
—Through his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Twitter at @garymonti