Liar liar pants on fire: 5 ways to spot bulls**t in the workplace

Things were so easy when you were little. If a friend strayed too far from the truth, it wasn’t long before one or more kids would call them out in a big way. In the corporate world though, things tend to be more complicated and it’s a lot harder to call bulls**t on someone who might just be signing your paychecks or approving your promotion.

So how prevalent is lying in the workplace? OfficeTeam research reported that almost half of workers (46%) said they know someone who included false information on a resume, a 25-point jump from 2011. Job experience (76%) and duties (55%) were the things they lied most often about.

Tim Cole is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Compass Alliance, and the author of The Compass Solution. He’s also helped launched 20 new brands to the market and played key roles in 6 legitimate blockbusters, so he knows a thing or two about spotting a fake. He offered some tips on how to recognized – and possibly react – when your coworkers or colleagues aren’t being entirely truthful.

1. How can you tell if someone is lying to you and is there anything you can do about it?

Cole broke this one down into a few categories:

• Verify and don’t assume. 

The perception of “someone lying to me” is difficult to defend and sometimes more difficult to prove. Your opinions/perceptions may be spot on. Then again, they could be completely inaccurate. Cole also reminds us that “there is no absolute litmus test even the most seasoned interrogators have that will confirm someone is lying – if there was our courts would likely be less crowded.”

• Observe behaviors but not assumptions about personality.

Cole says “The only valid measuring stick for any of us is in looking at what people do – not what we think they feel or believe.” He clarifies by reminding us how important it is to put our emotions into context since they’re so often “dictated by what we think about others – not always grounded in behavioral observation.”

• Pay attention to body language

Cole said “One extenuating factor I’ve found powerful – never underestimate the importance of body language – but don’t use that to reach final conclusions about a fellow employee.”

He also put a creative spin on our work relationships “Remember – we effectively rent someone’s behavior when they go to work for a company – we don’t have control or access to their thoughts.”

• Wait before you act.

Until you clarify and prove that someone is lying, it’s only your opinion. Or as Cole puts it “My assumption someone is lying to me is either validated in some way or it remains an opinion. Opinions do not carry nearly the weight that facts carry.”

2. Should you trust your gut if you are convinced someone is lying to you?

Cole said “Only to a degree – your gut could be wrong.” And while it’s okay to draw preliminary conclusions, “the assumption is honesty until proven otherwise.” He offered an example – “I work with Tom and ask about a report he was to submit last Friday. Tom indicates he submitted but there is no record. My assumption – especially if I doubt Tom’s veracity – is that he’s lying to me. But it’s important that I validate that no report was submitted before I draw the conclusion of lying. Accepting the fact that we all have biases is a part of effectively working with others – and my bias may be that Tom is a shiftless, lazy worker who does just enough to get by – but “trusting my gut” isn’t enough to confirm.”

3. When in doubt, don’t.

Cole said a classic example in terms of interviewing or recruiting is to follow a simple rule of thumb. When companies or interviewers face a candidate who might not be truthful “If in doubt, don’t.” He elaborated by explaining that “The average company – and this is industry specific – will invest thousands in a new hire. That figure rises to the hundreds of thousands for major industries for what might be described as a professional role. The cost of a bad hiring decision – in lost revenue, department productivity, and overall morale.” So if a claim doesn’t match performance, the potential hire is crossed off the list.

About that creatively worded resume? OfficeTeam District President Brandi Britton, said “It’s become easier than ever for hiring managers to catch those who provide false information on their resumes, so it’s likely you’ll get caught.” Things that might get you caught are employment gaps, a record of job hopping or details that might inspire you to stretch the truth. But don’t. Britton said “The better way to approach sticky resume situations and remove a hiring manager’s potential misgivings is to proactively offer an explanation for any red flags upfront in the cover letter or interview.” (Don’t lie on your resume and don’t lie in your interview. You’ll either be found out or crossed off the list of potential hires.)

4. What if it’s a boss or supervisor who’s the liar?

Cole reminded us that “Common sense needs to dictate here – to include accessing Human Resources if there is a problem that warrants discussion. Two of the most important factors for an effective boss/employee relationship is trust and caring. Minus that – work morale and productivity suffers.”

What you can do: If you suspect your boss or supervisor is lying, don’t confront them and don’t gossip about them behind their backs. If it’s a one time thing that isn’t a big deal, consider letting it go. If they have a chronic lying issue though, start chronicling dates, days and details and when you feel you have a strong enough argument, head over to HR to discuss the issue.

5. What if there’s a culture of bulls**t in your workplace? Do you have to suck it up or find another job?

Cole said while it’s easy to say “yes, bring it up,” “the reality is the culture of a company has likely been in place long before you arrived. The question I would ask the employee in this situation speaks to a larger issue – does this company’s values, philosophies, and ways of doing business align with yours? If not – do you want to be here?”

If you can handle lying and the chaos or confusion that inevitably follows, it might be worth sticking around. If, however, you feel the larger culture of lying prevents you from doing your best work or moving up the ladder, consider moving on.