Caught in a lie? It’s best come clean, apologize

Friday, September 2, 2016, Vol. 40, No. 36

Recent events have brought this very basic idea back to the surface. Honesty should be a critical part of each of our professional and personal brands. Building and maintaining trusting relationships is such an important piece of a successful career.

News coverage from the Olympics was dominated by the actions of a few swimmers, and those actions have nothing to do with the years they’ve each spent training in the swimming pool. Many of the reports were conflicting. What really happened or how bad things were is unclear. But what is clear is that the swimmers were not completely honest when they spoke to officials, their families and the media.

Regardless of how bad their actions were, their character is now being scrutinized in detail. Their lives will be forever changed, both personally and financially, by something that may have seemed inconsequential in the moment.

In a similar regard, we can often be on autopilot at work. We’re trying to make it through the day. We have more on our plates than we can possibly manage and we’re working to check everything off the list.

Honesty, ethics and doing the right thing can, at times, take a back seat to getting things done quickly.

In fact, a 2002 University of Massachusetts study performed by Robert Feldman found that 60 percent of people lie at least once during a 10-minute conversation.

It further found that “most people lie in everyday conversation when they are trying to appear likable and competent.”

Although the number seems high, this reasoning makes sense.

Someone may initially tell a small lie to make themselves look better. But, if caught, a lie can truly impact how we see that person going forward.

We may question everything that person has told us before, and whether or not they will tell the truth in the future.

In an interview, telling a lie can cost you the job. If there’s something inaccurate on your resume or in other information you’ve shared along the way and it’s discovered, you won’t receive a job offer.

If you’re fortunate enough to make it through the hiring process before the lie is discovered, it could be grounds for termination.

With this said, accidents do happen. There are times when we’re trying our best to be honest and something we’ve communicated is inaccurate.

When this happens, the best answer is to be straightforward with the truth. Dancing around the issue only sets you up to look like you were being dishonest all along.

Apologize to anyone who might have been hurt, take corrective steps, and try to move on quickly.

It’s better to build a reputation as someone who’s a little too honest than someone who isn’t quite honest enough. Honesty will allow you to grow professional relationships that will last for years to come.

Warren Buffet said it best: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Angela Copeland, CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.