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Can you just tell little business lies?

“He’s not in right now.”  “I am going to the doctor at that time.”  “I paid only two dollars a unit to your competitor.”  Whether not true and used to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, or whether used to gain an advantage in a negotiation, these little business lies are acceptable because they achieve their intended result without actually hurting the other party.  Right?

Wrong – in the long run, even if apparently harmless at the moment.  One problem, as demonstrated in so many movie scripts, is that you sometimes need to tell another lie to cover the first, and then another. And small lies turn into habits. And habits define the individual and often the culture of the individual’s direct world of influence.

[Email readers, continue here…]  What if you are never caught telling these little business lies? Is there any harm?  Sometimes you will never know that you were caught. Someone sees you at another event when you told them you were out of town.  Another asks his competitor if they really did sell to the company at such a low price. Someone you told was doing a superb job and was soon fired mentions the comment to his attorney or perhaps just as damning – to former peers still in the company.

It takes only one instance of being caught to cause an entire group of people to question the truthfulness of all of your statements. And that is a large consequence to come from a small business lie.

So, would you tell such white lies if you knew you’d never be caught?  Never?  That depends upon how you chose to live with yourself. It certainly is difficult to be truthful or silent but never slip into little lies.

For much of my adult life, I have been affiliated as an adult volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America, happily serving youth and adopting the Scout Law as an important part of my ethical being.  Of the twelve points of that law, none state “A Scout is truthful” because there is a greater law in Scouting: “A Scout is TRUSTWORTHY.”   And that is the bottom line for all of us in business.  We should strive to be TRUSTWORTHY in our actions and deeds.  People can depend on us to be truthful and trusted.   A simple lie, caught immediately or much later, belies that trust.

Can you tell little business lies?  Sure.  But should you?

  • Judy Connolly

    I’ve been around way too long in business to know it never pays to lie: It either comes back to bite you with the truth or it takes a little piece of your self-esteem away, either way I lose.

  • Dave we thank you for a very timely and “truthful” article for all of us at MSI. We are working on MSI culture as we speak. Somehow, a number of years ago, a few began embarking on a path where embellishing is ok. I have learned it only takes one. For the past six months, we have been working hard on changing that cultural view.

    The word the MSI Team hears most from me is integrity, followed by communications, gratitude and “the importance” of relationships. My favorite book, on my desk as I write this, is The Four Agreements. The first Agreement of the four is to always be “impeccable with your word”. I like the mantra “the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”.

    I love the simplicity in your above message…Be Truthful and Trusted!

  • bob jacques

    Insisting on integrity in all aspects of business is fundamental to your reputation to your vendors, customers and employees. We interview our sales staff with asking – “does the end justify the means” and if they believe in acting now and asking for forgiveness later – if they answer yes they are out. We expect both “means and end”.

  • Excellent input Dave, as usual. One lie, no matter how small leads to another. When the “little” lie is exposed, so is your entire reputation. As a long time Eagle Scout, living the BSA creed has been very important to me in the business world as well as in my 55 year, and still going strong, marriage. There should be no difference in your business life’s trustworthy attitude then in your your personal life.

  • Dave, great stuff as usual. But obviously not applicable to anyone in, or running for, a public office. 🙂

  • Ken Lu

    Or just carrying oneself in a less-than-professional manner. If someone is the representative of a company, he/she is being scrutinized in ways other private citizens are not. The Facebook or Twitter postings need to go through a filter before they are sent off to the rest of the world. The language, attire, and demeanor all need to adhere to the company standard. Like it or not, the CEO’s are diplomats for the company and need to behave themselves accordingly, lest things come back to bite them.

  • Bill Fisher

    By the way, very timely article. Thank you for including me in your newsletters. I find them helpful.

  • Bill Fisher

    I totally agree with this and have been having trouble “managing” a partner who seems to tell one of these little white lies every time he opens his mouth. His embellishments are an embarrassment and I am contemplating disolving the partnership and starting my own business from scratch over it because I find it hard to be associated with the inaccuracies he lays out. Really troublesome.

  • Dan Hoefflin

    You’re absolutely correct. Not only is it the right course morally, but everyone quickly figures out if you are truthful and trustworthy. Once they learn you will tell while lies to others, they know you will eventually tell white lies to them.

    Parents (and everyone) are correct when they teach “Honesty is the best policy”.

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