The Idea: The interesting thing about a lie is that most people can see right through it. When I am confronted with someone who spins the truth, misleads, or outright lies to my face, it’s disturbing, and yet it is rarely called out. If one believes Donald Trump, omission of facts or exaggerating a story to alter a perception is “truthful hyperbole.” I call it lying. And while research shows that everybody lies, those that tell the truth until it hurts are rare. Do you dare tell the truth? 

The Truth 

Author and researcher Seth Stephens-Davidowitz shares in his book, Everybody Lies, that most people lie to their family, friends, pollsters, and, most importantly, themselves. It is hardwired into us as a defense mechanism. Most people struggle to shake these habits, and often can’t even be honest with themselves about the following questions: 

  1. Have you withheld information because you didn’t think your boss could handle it?
  2. Is fear preventing you from listening to critical feedback?
  3. Have you misled someone recently by omitting an important piece of information? 

Pamela Meyer’s bestseller, How to Spot a Liar, states that strangers lie three times within the first ten minutes of meeting someone and extroverts lie more often than introverts. Similarly, Meyer suggests that trained lie spotters get to the truth 90 percent of the time while for the rest of us, it’s only 54 percent of the time. Those trained to look for lies are almost twice as effective in understanding deception. Lies leave clues. 

Leading research shows that the body never lies. People who fidget, freeze up, fiercely look into one’s eyes or force a smile are often deceiving. Most of our communication is nonverbal, operating at an unconscious level. Your body typically can’t hide the truth of what you are experiencing in your head. If you are too rehearsed, you may be vulnerable to staying too close to your script, which leads to deceptions. Studies also reveal that people who are often deceptive use qualifying language as a means of twisting the truth (using distancing phrasing like “to be honest with you”). These techniques are clues that a person may be “spinning” the truth. 

The Response 

Over the last 10 years, I have conducted hundreds of confidential 360 interviews with clients, associates, retail executives and leaders of very successful companies. Most folks unwittingly lie to save face, or, ironically, garner trust. But it doesn’t take an expert lie spotter to notice that to be a trusted advisor, the trait that matters most is listening. And it starts by listening to what you’re sharing with others. Are you guilty of misleading others by omitting information or are you known for telling the whole truth? 

Advancing truthfulness is often demonstrated when we lower defenses and are willing to be corrected and seen by others. There is nothing more contagious or attractive than speaking with someone who is comfortable in their own skin and is free to speak honestly. It’s rare and precious trait of elite leaders.