Who among us hasn’t felt a tremor or two, a little extra moisture in the palms or shifted this way and that in our seats during a meeting in anticipation of our turn to talk? Not because we fear public speaking, but because maybe we didn’t finish that project or read that report or call that client… or any number of tasks we sincerely meant to complete but failed to do for one reason or another.
So, when our turn comes, we stretch the truth a little. Tell a fib—a “trivial lie” or “minor falsehood” – to relieve the stress and buy some time to catch up. After all, we truly do intend to finish that project, read that doc or make that call right after the meeting ends. So, what’s the harm?
The Reasons We Lie in Business Settings
The recent Brian Williams episode is an example of one of the worst outcomes, especially because it was so high profile. For the rest of us, we can realize this in diminished productivity, whether it is immediate or happens over time.
“You are less than you could be, because people aren’t telling you the truth.”
– Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak blog.
The issue cuts both ways in a meeting – in person, online or otherwise. People attending meetings fib, and people leading meetings fib. And the fibbing isn’t always about what we say – sometimes it’s about what we withhold.
“Insulated leaders don’t ask, because they don’t want to know,” Rockwell writes, and he also shares four reasons why meeting participants might not “speak up” or be tempted to fib:
- Positive suggestions create more work. If you suggest it, you end up doing it.
- Suggestions may be interpreted as criticism or dissatisfaction.
- Speaking up may strain relationships with colleagues.
- Fear the boss will be embarrassed in front of subordinates and/or higher-ups.
Rockwell’s four points demonstrate that, in business, fibbing is rarely about deceit and more often about pressure— to solve problems, perform at a high level, support your co-workers or some other earnest motive. And like so many other workplace issues, there are ways we can encourage each other to be honest communicators.
But before sharing those techniques, let’s get some truth about lies. Amy Morin, who covers psychological aspects of business for Forbes, recently interviewed author Paul Ekman, whose research and writing about the nature of dishonesty has earned him a place on the American Psychological Association’s list of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century.
3 Important Myths About Lying to Know
Ekman shared eight myths about lying. Here’s a digest of three that can help us cope with fibbing in meetings:
Myth 1 – Everybody Lies
Not so, says Ekman, at least not about serious matters, which helps explain why so many of us succumb to fibbing in meetings; rarely are our business fibs what Ekman calls “high stake lies” such as deceit about large sums of money or life itself.
Myth 2 – No One Lies
According to Ekman, nearly everyone tells “low stake lies” like the fibs that slip out in meetings.
Myth 3 – Certain Facial Expressions Signal Lies
Not exactly. “Fleeting facial expressions” can reveal that emotion is being concealed, says Ekman, which is a “kind of lie.” But as we learned from Rockwell’s four points, this type of concealment may be understandable. For example, a meeting participant who missed a deadline may be masking fear or anger about their misstep going public.
In a business setting, facial contortions should be considered by colleagues less as evidence of deception and more as opportunities to help.
5 Ways to Foster Honesty in Business Meetings
So, how can we help each other tell the truth in meetings? When you are regularly collaborating face-to-face with coworkers, you develop a relationship that helps foster trust. But what happens when you add the aspect of remote participants who you may not have that established connection with? If you only meet via audio conference and you don’t have the luxury to watch their body language, does it become even harder to gauge how truthful someone is being?
Rockwell suggests “16 Ways to Get to the Truth,” which you can explore in depth at your convenience. Meantime, here are five of them that can elevate honesty in meetings, whether you are in an office or working from home.
1. Be Honest with Yourself
Take a cue from this blog post and admit that a few fibs have wiggled out of you during meetings. It’s an issue all of us need to manage if we want to be more productive.
2. Express Gratitude for Feedback
Whenever someone in a meeting has the courage to speak openly and honestly in a positive, constructive way, say “Thank you!”
3. Apologize When You’re Wrong
Acknowledging faults promotes an atmosphere of openness and honesty. By admitting errors, you show you’re trustworthy and encourage others in the room to trust you with the truth about a business issue.
4. Never Ridicule Colleagues
Embarrassing a co-worker in public – especially in the close quarters of a meeting – is the quickest way to erode any trust you established by practicing the first three techniques.
5. Never Participate in Gossip
See the prior bullet.
Have you ever fibbed? (Be honest…) Do you think it truly effected productivity? Can you practice these ways that Rockwell suggests to really get to the truth? Share your experiences below.