Liars are the best teachers in the world: The psychology of workplace lessons

As I walk out of Grand Central station and head to work, I am bombarded with advertisements with all sorts of wild claims. Some juices cure you of Vitamin D deficiencies and some airlines have enough legroom that you can stretch out and not develop deep vein thrombosis. Others note that their services will enhance your efficiency at an extraordinary rate. Yes, everywhere I look I see signs. I also see lies in bold print as I take in the city scene. Sadly, my rendezvous with lies does not stop once I escape the outdoors and turn on my computer. I’m not just referring to spam emails. However, I’m not exactly lamenting the ongoing encounters with lies.

If you want to know how to move up or succeed in the workplace, turn to the surrounding liars. Liars are the best teachers in the world. I don’t literally mean that liars are pedagogically gifted and will help you gain the most concrete knowledge and skills sets. What I wish to posit is that you can learn a lot from watching a workplace liar operate. The most useful ones are those that repeatedly lie. A small white lie here or there does not constitute a liar. Not for these purposes, that is.

Many of the workplace liars can be well-intentioned; while others not so much. Regardless, there is much to take in from liars. Here are five liar archetypes you may find in the workplace.

1. Pinocchio. There are some people who, as opposed to George Washington, just cannot help but tell a lie. It is part of their DNA. In some way, their lies are mere exaggerations. They are not meant to cause pain but are instead part of the repertoire of being funny or the office curmudgeon. We tend to forgive the lies of the pinocchios. They could also be referred to as the “Herodotus” embellisher. Overall, their main gig is to be a storyteller. Researchers recently noted that Pinocchio would have broken his neck after 13 lies and continuous nose growth. Definitely can’t be good for the souls and body. At the end of the day, Pinocchio teaches us the art of forgiveness and the skill of being more discerning. Our sense of sniffing out lies becomes honed. It is a marvelous skill-set to have. Be on the look out for the stiff necks.

2. Snape. In the Harry Potter universe we are led to believe very early on that the character of Snape is a bad guy. We are to wonder about his true intentions towards Harry Potter. At the end of the series (spoiler alert) we come to find out that he was a good guy after all who had been trying to protect Harry Potter all along. He was like a secret triple agent. His lies which were multi-layered only could be deciphered upon his final sacrifice. Now, how does this look in the workplace? There are some individuals that you just can’t get a read on. You might feel that they are not always telling the truth but you don’t know why. All along, however, they have a higher purpose and oftentimes it is for the overall good of the company. Their philosophy may be that with information comes responsibility and thus they massage many truths to make things more palatable and less stressful. The lesson to be learned here is the age-old standard of don’t judge a hook by its cover and don’t judge someone by the perceptions of other people. Look for tell-tale tortured eyes.

3. Clinton. There are man lessons to be learned from Bill Clinton. He is oftentimes noted for having told one of the more hurtful lies in the latter half of last century. He is also, as I have noted previously, an “authentic phony.” His parsing out of the word “is” reflects on a certain type of liar that looks to the letter but not intent of the law. You will have those colleagues that will agree to something in just that vein with no real intention of following through. Let me explain. There was once an instance whereby we advised a certain staff that it would be best to not do a particular action. That individual nodded in agreement (or so we thought). That person went on to do the very thing we had advised against. The person’s rationale? Well, we had advised it would be best and her nod was to show that she heard us. She did not take our advisement to heart nor to be a directive. Because we used the phrase “we advise…” she took that wording literally as advice and not a mandate. That person has gone on to do similar speech deconstruction. The lesson learned here is to ask for what their understanding is of what you just said. Look for the head nod and correct it.

4. Benedict Arnold. There are the straight up liars that mean to betray you. Sounds ominous and pessimistic. Let’s be real, though. Those types of people do exist. Oftentimes, they are also the gossipmongers. Never ever trust these people. They trade in secrets and lies as both a survival and pleasure tactic. They are usually the first ones to welcome a new office member to embrace them in their confidence. Look for the mischievous eyes, furtive looks and cabal-like congregations by the water cooler. Lesson learned here try out small secrets and see what people do with them.

5. The Mafioso. Could also be called the Ponzi, Trojan horse or Nixon schemer. There are some that disseminate different half-truths to various individuals. They make it seem like they are taking you in their confidence but its only half of a truth meant to distract or appease. There is no intention behind their words to tell you the full truth. Lies and truth serve as management currency to keep the troops in line. The lesson learned here is that you must always do fact-finding and hold yourself responsible for seeing the larger picture. Don’t get caught up in the minutia and don’t get entrenched in the muddy lies. Look out for when people say that this is just for your information. Also look out for non-focused eyes.

There you have it: lessons from the hard-knock work streets

Inspired by the daily prompt.


3 replies »

  1. Spot on. I have encountered each of these, and looking at them as ‘teachers’ and the experiences of getting fooled or worse by them is much more empowering and forward moving. Thanks, great post!!


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