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Submitted by williamelledgepe on


I have a staff member who is prone to lie. Lies have included things like:
1) "I sent the documents to so-and-so" without having delivered the documents.
2) "I am waiting on info from so-and-so" when the staff member has not asked so-and-so for info.
3) "So-and-so never asked me to do XYZ" even though they had been asked.

In the past, I have handled this via feedback - specific to the task - not the lie. I have provided feedback 3 times. If it continues, I plan to address the pattern, but I plan to provide feedback related to the repeated task issues - not the lie. Am I wrong for not addressing the lie specifically? My thought for feedback on the pattern is something like, "When you repeatedly forget small tasks, it degrades my ability to trust you. This has become a pattern and I am concerned. What can you do to improve?" Because we are not talking about the lie, the answer is likely to be "take better notes" or who knows what - but it won't yield a statement like "admit when I haven't finished something." I am treating this like feedback for getting angry - focus on the raised voice not the anger. Lying is not an emotion; it is a behavior. I struggle with the idea of saying "When you lie, it degrades my ability to trust you. Can you do better?"

This article got me thinking I might be on the wrong path:

Am I right to focus on the task instead of the lie? What do y'all think?

Svet.'s picture

Hi williamelledgepe,

My opinion is that you need to address the attitude, not the specific tasks only, especially as this seems to be a pattern. You need to know that the person is reliable, otherwise you will always be in doubt whether something is in progress, done or not, etc,

If I was in your place, I would have used an occasion (i.e O3 meeting if you do such) to call this out. I would first see what the person thinks for those cases and what is his version. It could be that there was an objective reason or bottleneck. Once I have this info I would not call it a lie but I would either provide sample solution for the bottleneck or stress out on the responsibility, ownership and reliability required for this position. You know, the cliche that 'you can teach skills but you can't teach attitude' is right - depending on the solicited info you will be able to distiguish is it a skill missing that needs to be addressed or is it the attitude which would raise more questions and attention.



Atypical IT Guy's picture

I think you need to address the behavior directly, especially if it is a pattern. I would consider this to be among the worst things a professional could do, if you can not trust what your staff tell you how can you be expected to work with them? It would bring into question every aspect of there work.

Your staff member likely thinks that they are getting away with the lie when you give feedback that bypasses the fact that they lied. So they have no reason to change the behavior. I wouldn't directly call it a lie, maybe something like "When you tell me you have sent a report but you actually haven't, it degrades my ability to trust you. Can you do better?"

I would keep shot across the bow close at hand while delivering that feedback, being accused of a lie is likely to make a person defensive. I would also brush up on systemic feedback in case they continue this behavior, even if they take it to heart for the particular case you have given feedback. For example you give feedback on the lie about sending documents, but lies about waiting for info from a co-worker continue. These are one and the same to me, the behavior is lying regardless of the situation.

Best of luck. Let us know what you decide to do.

timrutter's picture

My opinion is that you're right to focus on behaviour William and lying is a behaviour. Chealey has hit it on the head that you have addressed what you see as the minor problem and bypassed the big issue.

"When you say that "I sent the documents to so-and-so" without having delivered the documents, here's what happens"

Describing something as a "lie" denotes intent and as MT Managers, we assume good intent. When you describe the behaviour (visible and audible action) and the subsequent consequences, it's unarguable. They're smart, they'll get the message that you're paying attention and this doesn't slip under the radar unaddressed. If they continue, then you can move on to systemic feedback and more.

You may want to remind or reinforce that you expect a full and frank answer, without omission, to any question you deserve an answer to. Anything less is a professional failure and is dealt with as such.

Hope this helps


uwavegeek's picture
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I'm a little firmer on this. A lie is an intentional attempt to misrepresent or misdirect. Different than a mistake. It cannot stand. If you can't trust the information your direct is providing to you, its time for another direct in my opinion. First offense is worthy of a 'shot across the bow' in my opinion. I've seen folks fired for first offenses though when the lie was egregious enough however.

Keep in mind, this does not count for things you have no right asking (like... Were you on a job interview yesterday when you took the day off?).

All the best,

misstenacity's picture

As said by uwavegeek, firing can occur with incidents of lying that are egregious. I've seen it in cases that were identical to your direct, however. One statement that the person sent an email to someone about a project, and then they went and sent the email 10 minutes after making the statement. Fired on the spot. That was, from what I know about the manager doing the firing, almost certainly a gross overreaction that was more about their personality than real problems with the direct. But it still happened. 

I'm now dealing with something that seems to be lying with my direct. All of the evidence is against them, unfortunately. Basically, they work remotely. One day last week there was no work done, no emails, no reporting, no answering of texts. I grew worried and emailed alternate addresses until I got a reply that they had a new phone number. When confronted with the lack of work that day, they were shocked and said they did work, but they couldn't remember on what. So, long story short, they offered to have that day's pay docked because it was clear they could not prove they had done a thing that day (across 4 systems that all have logging, so it's not like they just had a problem with the mail server or one system). 

I'm super disappointed but I don't know how to take it from here other than it's over and we both just move on with better daily communication. They agree, so.... that's where it stands. 

Hope you are able to use feedback to address the lying behavior with your direct. I'm curious to hear if it puts them on the defensive.

mrreliable's picture

Maybe I'm reading tea leaves that don't exist, but here's my take on this.

You're not addressing the lie itself because as soon as you acknowlege the lie, the working relationship is over. You're trying to salvage the situation and trying to guide your direct to acceptable behavior. But, to complete the circle, unless this individual stops lying and never lies again, it's not going to work.

The only way I can see to have a hope of salvaging this relationship is with a performance improvement plan, which specifically puts the issues in writing and lays out consequences for not always telling the truth. If you wanted to soft pedal it a little, you could make this person responsible for giving the appearance of not telling the truth, and holding them accountable for restoring their reputation.

I once had a direct with a similar problem. Every time there would be any scrutiny and possibility of being held accountable for something, she would lie and point fingers at other people. Part of the dance was always throwing somebody under the bus. The aggravating circumstance was that she was a family member, so the relationship dragged on for much longer than it should have. The point is she exhibited the same behavior in all aspects of her life, not just the business side. Eventually her dishonesty did damage to the company and termination was the only resolution. She lied to a room full of people, who all believed her because that's what you do, Several departments proceeded based on untrue information, and a significant amount of money was spent on a worthless pursuit.

My point is that people with this problem often have deeply-ingrained troubles. I'm all for giving people a second chance, but when that turns into a third, and a fourth, and a never ending pattern, I think the writing's on the wall.