How to Mitigate The Lies People Tell You In Business

It’s an (unfortunate) fact of life that everyone lies at some point. The problem is, in a business environment, inaccurate or imperfect information can often cause leaders to make bad — or costly – decisions.

In many ways, the true goal of a leader is to have a better understanding of the real truth in order to set priorities up and down an organization and drive effective decision-making.

Of course, this is often easier said than done, because…

Customers lie to you

Depending on what type of industry your organization operates in (B2B or B2C), this can take different forms — but make no mistake, your customers are lying to you either way. Customers are at the most basic level just people, and people don’t like conflict.

So they’ll lie to suppliers or tolerate a less-than-stellar product and simply eventually depart without telling you exactly why.


Your team lies to you

We’re taught from a very young age to fear and respect power, and we carry that into the workplace with us when we grow up. If you’re the boss, you have power over your team. Because people don’t want to look incompetent (or “bad”) in front of their bosses, they lie and fudge information to make it look more favourable.

We`ve often witnessed teams set a success metric, not achieve it, and replace that success metric with something lesser to showcase ‘a win’. Plus, if your execution-level team is closer to the customers and the customers are lying to them (see above), how do you expect your team to be able to accurately represent the truth to you?


You lie to yourself

Leaders often have big egos — that’s not an indictment, it’s actually a requirement for the job — and they often believe their own hype, or if the hype isn’t there at the level they want, they’ll invent the hype.

Essentially, you start to believe your own story and you’re probably emphasizing the successful arcs of it, even though the failure arcs are more valuable to recognize. This is what innovation strategist Cynthia Barton Rabe dubbed the “paradox of expertise.” She asserts, “when it comes to innovation, the same hard-won experience, best practices, and processes that are the cornerstones of an organization’s success may be more like millstones that threaten to sink it. If you’re only ever focussed on your personal strengths or the strengths of your organization, you might miss a giant opportunity for innovation and growth.”


How to get closer to the truth

So … if everyone is lying to you (at some point) how do you as a leader get to the truths you need to make strategic decisions?

The first thing to remember when answering this question – is that there’s no conclusive answer. Lying will continue to happen on all three of these major fronts. Your goal as a leader is to get closer to the actual reality of a situation in order to make sure your decision-making and priority-setting is effective.

Get better market intelligence: Years of business research have shown that the single-most important factor dictating company success is market condition — yes, even more than strength of leadership. Understanding your market condition and how to play within it can be extremely powerful, but … if your understanding is limited by inaccurate or outdated information, your strategy will be misguided.

Get better team insights: You can’t do this perfectly either, but you can get closer to how your team actually feels and uncover their real concerns and ideas. To do so, you need to bring in a third party or independent expert to interview and engage your team for feedback. Because this person isn’t actually their boss, they are much more likely to be honest and transparent.

If you’re already using a third-party neutral source to gain better market intelligence and team insights, you’re doing a great job of mitigating the impact lying has on your business.

The last and often most effective solution is much harder for many leaders to adopt, but here it goes:

Don’t be afraid to hear the truth from someone you have power over: This goes back to the themes of ego and hierarchy, both mentioned above. Many leaders feel that because of their expertise and experience within a given industry, their word should be paramount — after all, they are the ones ultimately tasked with the success or failure of the organization. That makes sense at one level, but it’s also incredibly hard for leaders to operate in a vacuum, or only speak with other leaders.

There are people all throughout your organization who observe its processes and work with its customers on a daily basis. Many of them have ideas about your business that could drive it forward — and some of these ideas might be uncomfortable to hear at first, but if you get over that initial period of awkwardness or discomfort, you could be a step closer to a major revenue growth concept. It just requires a shift in personal thinking.

What other strategies have you used to help mitigate the impact of the lying in the workplace and how do you deal with it as a leader?

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