Dan Erwin: Career development

Can You Tell When Your Boss Is Telling You the Truth?

The short answer to that question is . . . rarely. Yet bosses matter a lot because nearly all employees have them.  And most bosses also have bosses. There are at least 21 million bosses in the United States.  Bob Sutton points out that estimates run as high as 38 million bosses. With a lot of bosses in most organizations, it's inevitable that we sometimes wonder whether the information coming from our boss is really the truth.
AdobeStock_126674064Bosses can be deceptive for any number of reasons: they lack permission to share information, they don't think we need the information, they don't understand our need for information, or they're defensive.

As a result, most of us prefer face-to-face meetings when there's a lot at stake.  We like to think we can gauge the truthfulness or sincerity of our boss's words by the look in her eye and the tone of her voice. 

So, how good are you, really, at ascertaining when your boss is telling the truth? Paul Ekman, the well-known expert at non-verbal assessment and lie-detection, has found that most of us aren't nearly as good as we think.  In fact, the studies indicate that our hunches about whether people are telling the truth or deceiving us aren't much better than a coin toss. 

In an earlier blog, Powerful People are Better Liars, I pointed out that research has found that if you give people power, they're more comfortable lying, and it will be harder to tell they're doing it. That's supported by recent research that has found that the higher up the ladder and more isolated from his or her people, the more oblivious and indifferent to your needs your boss becomes.

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