I was watching an interview with David Chase, the godfather of "The Sopranos," where he observed that almost every character on the show lied.
Sound familiar? Like how it is where you work? Or am I too cynical from watching too much of New Jersey's favorite mob family?
Ironically for a Jersey guy, I disagree with Mr. Chase. There's a lot less lying in the workplace than most people believe. On the other hand, I'm not saying everyone is telling the truth either. Let me explain.
Based on my experience, there are four groups of people in the world when it comes to truth telling. I learned this when I was on Match.com. Since I gained this insight on the front lines of dating, I'll include both a dating example and a work example for each category. So think of this week's column as Cosmo meets Fortune.
1. "The whole truth and nothing buts." Likely the smallest of the four groups, these people tell the truth habitually and aggressively. It's the woman who tells you her natural hair color on the first date. At work, it's the person who acknowledges stealing office supplies. There can be a thin line between the whole truth and nothing but and TMI (too much information), but because there are so few people who qualify as truth tellers, it isn't a distinction that must often be made.
2. "Chronic liars." How can you spot a chronic liar? These are people who lie for no reason or gain. They lie because they can — because that's who they are. In dating, I'm told, it's the guys who are married and claiming to be single on online dating sites. At work, it's people who claim that they were pulling an all-nighter at the office even when security cameras show that no one entered or left the building.
3. "Rounding errors." I must give full credit to a woman I met online for this one. She was 6 feet tall and scared that she was H.U. (height unattractive). So she listed herself as 5'10". However, her date with a guy who listed himself as 5'10" didn't go well. In fact, you could say that they didn't see eye to eye — because he was actually 5'8". When she asked him about it, he chalked it up to a rounding error. Rounding errors at work include people who say that a project is done weeks before it's actually completed or someone who adds degrees to their resume that they fell short of actually completing.
4. "Denialists." One of my favorite "Seinfeld" episodes of all time involved Jerry having to take a lie detector test to be able to date a certain woman. He was concerned, so he went to the best liar he knew, George. He asked him about lying and George said, "Jerry, it's not a lie if you believe it to be the truth." The mistruths that denialists spew are the most challenging because they don't even see the problem in the first place. At work denialists are the ones who discount the effect of new moves by competitors or companies coming into the marketplace.
The bottom line: Relatively few people lie for the sake of lying at work. My experience is that they often deceive themselves as much as they try to deceive others. Capiche?
"An optimist is a fellow who believes a housefly is looking for a way to get out." -- George Jean Nathan
From "Courageous Messenger" by Ryan, Oestreich and Orr (Jossey Bass, 1996)