Dan Erwin: Lying and deception

Deception and Lies Can Be Okay, But . . .

big whoppers will always catch up with you. Deception is not only inevitable in business, but sometimes necessary or strategic. If you track “deception” or “lying” on my blog’s Google search, you’ll find a number of blogs dealing with the issue. See, for example, my blog, Powerful people are better liars.

Clearly, I seriously question the notions of authenticity and truthfulness for all situations. My mind always dredges up an interaction with a very close friend, an ordained minister who was also an astute psychologist. As a professor, he had taught students to be open and authentic. But he told me years afterward that he had changed his mind. Those behaviors, he said, assume an inherently fair and just world—a naïve perspective that could sometimes lead to career destruction. It was a decision I had made long before him, but never shared. Indeed, there are plenty of reasons for deception. But before you engage in the behavior think seriously about the issue and its implications.


On the one hand humans don’t naturally seek the truth, but tend to avoid it. Sure, people instinctively accept information they’re exposed to, and sure, they have to work hard to resist falsehoods. And yeah, they cherry-pick data to support their own perspective, and certainly, as the Nobelist Daniel Kahneman has pointed out, they’ll steer clear of facts that might force them to think and work harder. Some of us were even taught to lie. It was often the only resource for avoiding undeserved punishment. All that just might suggest a role for some deception in business—and in life.

Negative personal impact
But unless you’re very careful about deception, you’ll negatively impact your personal reputation. Liar or deceiver is not a tag that you’d want to be labeled with. There’s extensive research demonstrating that most people respond best to people whom they both like and respect. Respect, built on expertise and trust, goes a long way in careers. It makes managing and leading simpler. It can provide you with better opportunities, better salaries and faster promotions. And it also can make it easy to access information and resources from others, needed commodities in today’s business world. So, you want to keep a positive reputation relatively intact. 

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