I’m not upset that you lied to me; I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you. – Friedrich Nietzsche
The one way to lose credibility with others is to not tell the truth. Conversely, when we tell the truth, we hold the main key to credibility with others well in hand.
It’s so automatic for people to lie to us these days that it almost seems like it’s all right to lie. In fact, most of the time, perfectly decent people don’t seem to consciously realize they are lying. Whatever they say, they themselves believe, at least for the time it takes them to say it; whether it’s true or not.
What’s worse, they often don’t even save lying for big, important stuff. They’ll lie about everything and anything no matter how trivial. It’s just habit with some folks.
I can’t begin to provide psychoanalysis for why human beings prevaricate. Maybe it has something to do with the incessant invasion of privacy to which we are all subjected as more and more, each of us feels like our life is being dissected and cataloged by every conceivable data base imaginable. Perhaps a fib creates a little, internal island, free from molestation from the outside world.
Or, maybe it has to do with so many well-known sorts getting away with lying with so little outwardly obvious consequence, so long as they have some personal charisma or charm, and we didn’t expect the truth from them in the first place.
Even though lying is common place, it’s still common to lose credibility with others when we don’t tell the truth.
Some years ago I encountered a situation that illustrates the problem with good people habitually lying.
My family and I had just rented a house from Melinda (not her real name), a real estate agent by profession, who was an energetic, blue-eyed blond, with a great big smile, and an outgoing personality.
When we moved into her house she was kind enough to leave the cable on an extra week on her nickel, and phones in four of the rooms for us to use until we purchased phones of our own.
Then the lies started. First, she said the air conditioning worked well. When I tried it, the compressor was busted. OK, maybe she didn’t realize it. Then the roof had supposedly been recently repaired; one rain proved that incorrect. OK, maybe the roofers did a bad job. Then the hot water heater had recently been replaced, but it sure had a lot of dust on top of it for a new hot water heater. OK, maybe it sat in a warehouse for a while before it was installed.
But then, one afternoon Melinda came over to pick up the phones she’d left for us to use temporarily. At the door, we exchanged small talk briefly, and because I liked Melinda, and she had been so considerate about the cable and the phones, I asked her in for some coffee. Without hesitation she said she’d need to take a rain check on the coffee because she was running late, and still had to pick up her dry cleaning.
Still wishing to return her thoughtfulness, I insisted on helping her take the phones to her car so that she didn’t need to make two trips to the car with all the phones by herself. As I was placing my armload of phones in the back of her Volvo, I happened to glance up to see freshly wrapped, dry cleaned cloths, hanging from a hook over the open window behind the driver’s seat, their clear covers gently flapping in the breeze.
I pretended not to notice, which of course was only polite, but that seemingly small, ‘white lie’ had nonetheless done its damage. Not that I suddenly disliked Melinda; it was just that I no longer trusted Melinda because of the pattern of deceit she had so quickly established.
CREDIBILITY IS SOCIAL CURRENCY
Credibility is something we earn from people by establishing a pattern of trustworthiness over time. You could say it’s like putting money into a savings account so that it’s there if and when we need it. If we chronically lie, we destroy our trustworthiness and eventually go socially broke.
TELLING THE TRUTH PRESERVES SOCIAL CREDIBILITY
What did Melinda’s serial prevarication cost her in terms of social currency? I could no longer trust or recommend Melinda.
If I consider how many times, with how many different people Melinda may have discredited herself, then I have to conclude that Melinda may have missed out on a lot of referrals, friendships, partnerships, and opportunities because she lacked the credibility or social currency, and in addition, may have missed out on reaping the social dividends that would surely have followed.
What do you think? Is lying worth the potential cost to one’s credibility? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section below.
In the meantime,