Once a colleague has engaged in a significant lie, it is difficult for those around them to fully believe anything they say or do. As the saying goes, no one believes a liar — even when they’re telling the truth. Maybe you have noticed this: We never refer to people as recovered liars. We don’t say, “That person used to lie.” Once someone has earned the reputation of a liar, it stays with them, sometimes forever.
Everyone fibs, exaggerates, embroiders the truth, or withholds information at times. The need to be seen positively by others often encourages bad behavior that we later regret. When colleagues purposely deceive to gain an advantage or to avoid accountability, a lie takes on larger proportions. When this becomes a pattern, the ability to trust and believe this person is highly suspect. People avoid liars because their lies undermine their ability to engage and perform. The stain of working with a liar is that you, too, become suspect.
Leaders who learn they have a liar on their hands face a difficult dilemma. Once confronted, liars swear off future transgressions. Leaders would like to believe them, but this hope is often without warrant. Rarely is a given lie a reason for dismissal. Inquisitions to determine the pattern and true extent of the lying are implausible and exceedingly negative for everyone. Leaders must trust their own experience and what they are told repeatedly by others to discern if they oversee a serial liar.
Accepting that this is who they are and privately asking everyone to stay cautious and vigilant is too often the approach to dealing with liars. The optimist in us wants to believe everyone can be rehabilitated if given the right support. Unfortunately, lies are a means of control and manipulation and will soon sow the seeds of disrespect and unhappiness on the team. When great team leaders know they have a liar on the team, they part ways to the benefit of the team. Allowing a known liar to undermine the goodwill of the team is never a winning strategy. Stop lying to yourself and lose the liar.