Little white lies at work

Published On: March 1, 2013Categories: How-To Articles

Do you lie?

“Of course not,” you’d probably respond to a question like this. You likely consider yourself a person of honesty and candor, someone who would never speak a falsehood.

But what about those innocent “little white lies?” Those slight mistruths you proclaim in an effort to be polite or wiggle your way out of an embarrassing situation?

These innocent lies abound throughout the business world. They’re so common that most people can recognize the transparency of a white lie—and willingly brand the person who utters it as untrustworthy or irresponsible.


How often do you tell these seemingly innocent lies? To find out, rate yourself on the “fib index.” Estimate the number of times you uttered each of the following statements (or statements like them) over the past month …

  • I was going to mail that package yesterday, but a sudden project was dumped on me.
  • I would have taken care of your request right away, but the boss asked me to do something else first.
  • This is the first time I heard of it.
  • I don’t think I ever received that memorandum.
  • I never got your message.
  • The project is almost finished. I just have to put some finishing touches on it.
  • I don’t think my assistant ever gave me that report.
  • I was working on the report at home, and I left it there.
  • Sorry I didn’t get you the information, but my computer was giving me problems.
  • I didn’t get back to you because I’m still waiting for a piece of information.
  • I don’t have any of Product X around. I used the last of it yesterday.
  • John never got back to me with the information I needed.
  • I’ve been working on it very hard.
  • I’ve got to leave for a meeting in a few minutes.

At first blush, each of these statements appears to resolve you of responsibility for a problem. And yet, these statements—even when they contain kernels of truth—convey a sense of insincerity to the person who hears them.

If you find yourself with a high “fib rating”—say, more than 15 of these statements a month—resolve to avoid those seemingly trite white lies in the future. Monitor yourself. When you catch yourself preparing for an innocent-sounding fib, stop. Explain or apologize to the person you’re speaking with instead. Take responsibility for your actions and offer no excuses for your faults. And if you’re facing a problem, substitute a promise of action for a transparent mistruth.

Forthrightness alone might not satisfy the people you work with, but this quality will almost always be appreciated. Even when you make mistakes, your honesty and integrity will signify you as a person others can trust and count on.

Richard Ensman is a business writer based in Rochester, N.Y.