Human Resources News & Insights

Little white lies: The hidden secret to managing employees?

“Listen, Bill, if it were up to me you would have gotten a bigger raise.” Three cheers for the harmless fib! Where would we be without little white lies?

We all do it, though some of us are far better (and more habitual) at it than others.

Psychologists say we were all very capable of looking our parents right in the eye and deliberately lying to them by the ripe young age of six.

It’s just part and parcel of being human, science assures us, so relax. It’s natural and easy.

Too easy. For example, when I recently asked my colleagues for their contributions to a “Top 5” list of time-tested managerial white lies, I had a list of 27 fibs in no time flat. (Well, in under an hour. But this is just an exaggeration, not actually a lie.)

Anyone who has spent any time at work will instantly recognize the little lies on the list below. As well you should. We hear them all the time. We just don’t always know for sure whether the person saying them is being sincere or not.

But, before you get to the list below, here are a few things to consider.

Did you know that people at nonprofits tend to be more deceptive than people at for profits?

It seems intuitively backward, but it’s (allegedly) true.

In his book, From Hire to Liar: The Role of Deception in the Workplace, author David Schulman says part of the reason is that at nonprofits, “career mobility is likely limited, people burn out, they face pressure to accumulate financial resources, the organization may be driven by a motivating righteous fervor, and the typical organization’s small size enables a less bureaucratic approach with more discretionary autonomy. Given these circumstances, it is not unreasonable to expect to find pressures and opportunities to act deceptively.”

Glad we could put that to rest.

Another thing worth noting is that just like so many other things in life, white lies are relative. There are degrees of fibbing.

For instance, when you tell a caller, “There’s someone in my office at the moment, I’ll have to get back to you,” that isn’t really a lie at all because there is someone in your office: you!

That’s just a little free-fib you toss around without guilt.

Here’s another bit of fiction well-meaning managers like to repeat: “Remember, there are no stupid questions.”

Ha, ha, ha! Oh boy. Of course there are. We have all been left flabbergasted by truly dumb, mindless and stupid questions.

But the best managers, those seeking to constantly build morale, reply to dumb questions with another fib: “Now that’s thinking outside the box.”

In the world of white lies, one good fib deserves another. And so, without further delay …

The Top 5 (27 and counting ) white lies

I’m not aware of any more layoffs at this time.

The salary is commensurate with experience.

You have great qualifications and we’ll be calling you in for a second interview.

That new guy I hired is working out great!

Yes, we tried that already.

I’m sure I already gave that to you.

I left it on your desk.

There’s someone in my office at the moment. I’ll have to get back to you.

I’m getting ready to go into a meeting. Try me later.

I have a customer on the other line.

Trust me, the customer always comes first.

Your work is always excellent.

I would’ve given you a bigger raise if it were up to me.

Once things settle down, we’ll get to that.

No problem, everyone has made this same mistake.

Remember, there are no stupid questions.

Now that’s thinking outside the box!

Yes, that’s on my list of things to do next.

I was just getting ready to call you.

You deserve a raise, but my hands are tied.

Sorry, I only have a vague memory of that.

I didn’t get that email.

I have no plans of ever leaving this company.

I see no need to put any of this in writing.

It’s not about the money.

I don’t agree with this, but it came from upstairs.

Play ball with me now, and I’ll make it up to you later.

And counting …

Your raise is above the average.

I believe in the direction of this company.

You’re going to like this new assignment, I’m sure of it.

These meetings are important.

This will be good for your career.

Need more white lies? I’ll get back to you on that.

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