Sweet little lies

Rosanna Machado | May 27, 2020


We’ve all told those white lies – we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, we’d rather avoid confrontation, it doesn’t fit with our professional persona or we want to paint a better picture of our life. Are those lies as harmless as we think? Is there another way of approaching those situations?

Recent research by Julia J Lee at al suggests that by behaving dishonestly we are less able to read other people and be empathetic, which in turn can make it harder to build good relationships. When behaving dishonestly, there is a tendency to dehumanize people and distance ourselves from others which makes it far harder to judge people’s emotions.

A few years’ ago, I read Sarah McKnight’s book – “The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck” I was seeking more balance and needed to be able to say no to things. The biggest lesson I took from the book was whilst you should always be respectful, telling the truth in the right way can often lead to a better outcome. Shortly after reading it, I received an email asking me why I hadn’t responded to a new business tenders list. My instinct was to apologise and say I hadn’t looked at it yet. The truth was that my new business approach was to go through channels where I had existing relationships and therefore the tender list wasn’t right for me at the time. After some reflection, I wrote a carefully worded email with my honest answer and received a lovely response and ensured that I no longer received irrelevant emails. A bit of courage and a carefully worded communication led to a better outcome.

So next time you are thinking about telling a white lie, have a think before you do it:

  • What’s stopping me telling the truth?
  • What are the benefits of telling the truth?
  • Is it about my own vulnerabilities? What will happen if I am more honest about my lack of knowledge / uncertainties?
  • Is someone else affected by this and can I take their feelings into account?
  • What do I know about the person I am communicating with and can I adapt my style for their benefit?
  • What’s the best way to communicate – where, when and how?

I’m not saying this will always be possible and I certainly don’t want to be responsible for family fallouts about whether someone looks good in an outfit! However, I do think that pausing for thought before acting, having some courage, and thinking harder about how to communicate can build trust and ultimately lead to stronger relationships.