Lying at Work - The 7-Power Contractor

Lying at Work

Lying. We all do it. To what degree, for what purpose and how often are the only qualifiers.

Yes, owners, managers, employees and even your customers lie from time to time.

Don’t believe me?

Never said to a customer waiting for a Tech, “The Tech was on their way but the truck broke down….”

Or, how about a more sophisticated lie, “I know we’re running late to your home. That’s because I had a special Tech in mind and he’s tied up right now. But if you don’t care who I send, I can get somebody over there sooner….”

It comes down to telling lies that range along the spectrum of little white lies to outright lies designed to purposely obscure the truth. And it’s hard to spot when it’s being done to you and even harder when you’re lying to yourself. It’s easy to get all too comfortable telling lies.

It happens in our personal lives. Hey, I’ve stood in front of the mirror for years and said, “I think I look pretty good” even though I was 40 pounds overweight and was wheezing every time I had to climb the stairs on a service call to check the thermostat one more time. This lie falls under a self-delusional lie.

What husband hasn’t responded to their wife, “No, that dress doesn’t make you look fat.”

Why do we lie?

Well, there are many reasons. But, it can boil down to a coping mechanism we develop to get us through our day. We can be perfectionists in our own minds and therefore demand nothing but perfection from ourselves and others but when we are confronted with reality and fall short we either lie to ourselves and/or find someone else to blame for it.

When the business is struggling and the numbers affirm this, we can hide the truth from ourselves by telling ourselves a lie like, “It was a warm winter. I’ll catch up in the summer.” Or you’re lying to your team for fear they’ll leave you.


But, I know that they know what’s really going on just like kids whose parents are fighting and heading for a divorce. “The Kids” always know. So, the right move is to tell the truth and instead engage them in turning things around. Reality is it’s sometimes more comforting to stick our heads in the sand and pretend we don’t see than to confront an ugly truth. Failing is far from perfection. And for perfectionists not seeing it, allows them to continue to wear the cloak of perfection.

More insidious lying goes on at all types of companies from how they treat employees to how they treat customers. It all breeds the wrong culture.

Some of the worst of this is seen in large companies. That’s because the many layers of big titled vice presidents and managers become all too often more concerned with preserving their comfy jobs rather than telling the owner what’s really going on. WIIFM [aka What’s in It For Me] is still king here. Many times managers can actually obscure vital information from the owners or outright lie to them to protect the status quo. Doesn’t matter that the “ship is about to sink” because they are clinging to the last life preserver for as long as they can no matter what the cost.

Has a Tech ever told you, “I didn’t get the after-hours call on Sunday. Must have been out of cell range.” Well, possibly. Or, was it really that his favorite team was playing and he wasn’t leaving his comfy chair.

Owners won’t share the numbers with their staff. And I’m not preaching that the Owners must share everything with employees about the numbers. But, a lot of progressive Owners have found that adopting some form of Open Book Management and fully sharing with the team the numbers empowers the team and builds trust.

Note: Open Book Management was a phrase first coined by John Case of Inc. Magazine™ who began using the term in 1993. Although, many of us Contractors know it best by the work Jack Stack has done applying this philosophy both at his company and in his books and seminars since.

Whatever your approach to sharing the numbers, I’ve observed Owners lying to their staff either about how good things are out of fear they’ll jump ship or how bad things are as a scare tactic to get them to do more and work harder.

Lying is rarely if ever a sound business practice and ultimately it’s bad karma, of which I’m a firm believer.

Do customer’s lie?

“Yes, I have a new born baby in my home so I need my air conditioning fixed immediately.” Now, sometimes that’s true. But, there must have been a baby explosion during my years as a Contractor for all the times I personally heard this.

Or, “I just got out of the hospital and there’s no heat so I need it fixed now.” Once again, I’m sure this happens I’m just questioning the frequency.

The difference is when a Customer lies to you for their personal WIIFM which is normally to gain immediate attention above all others. You don’t get to call them on it. As it was best said to me, “The Customer isn’t always right. But, they are always the customer. So, we have to act like they’re right.”

So, how do you spot if you’re being lied to?

My dad taught me, “Pay attention to how people talk and behave around others when they don’t think you’re watching. That’s because that’s their true nature on display. We all look to put on our best face so we can act accordingly when we’re talking to you vs. letting our guard down and being ourselves when we think we’re not being watched.”

I know from my work both at my business and today as a consultant that lying, whether intentional or not, is more easily spotted by:

  • Listening to how things are being said as much as what’s being said by whom
  • Asking yourself, “Why is this person telling me what they are telling me?” In other words, try to figure out their WIIFMs for what they’re saying to you.
  • When face to face, see how well they are able to maintain eye contact while talking.
  • Are they smiling while they’re talking? Read the body language and facial expression as much as hear what they’re saying.
  • Is there fire where there is smoke? How many times have you heard this from them and is it true or not.

A good article in Forbes™ by Carol Kinsey Gorman about “12 Way to Spot a Liar” gives some other good tips:

The harder lie to spot is the one you tell yourself. Sometimes, it’s not even a lie so much as something that’s untrue that you just believe. You believe it because it’s a myth you tell yourself or you picked up along the way and you just own it.

Sometimes it’s true what you’re telling yourself but you don’t want to deal with it.

I’ll leave you with what I told my Field Supervisors and Managers at my company. “Don’t hide trouble.” Hiding trouble is covering up for what the people they manage are doing that’s not in keeping with our ethical and procedural standards. That is tantamount to lying and now they’re in trouble too.

As an Owner, I had to get comfortable with allowing my team to tell me things that a lot of times I didn’t want to hear so they would feel more comfortable telling me the truth that I did need to hear.

Al Levi teaches contractors how to run their businesses with less stress and more success with operating manuals. To get control of your business and grow the right way, get The 7-Power Contractor® Signature Operating Manuals System at today.

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