The business world is fantastic. It's also challenging. Over the course of your career, you'll face ethical, cultural, political, and personal dilemmas in the workplace. You'll work with difficult people. You'll find yourself in compromising situations. You'll have to balance who you are as an individual with what your employer asks of you.
Can you stay true to who you are without sacrificing your success? Absolutely YES.
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Your Boss Lies (Ouch)

What To Do When 
Your Boss Lies To You.

“I'm not upset that you lied to me.
I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.” 

Whatever challenge you're having with your boss in a given moment always seems like the BIGGEST challenge of all. He's incompetent. She doesn't get it. He's arrogant and insensitive. She's unfair. He doesn't like me. She lacks integrity. He doesn't keep commitments. These are all challenges to be sure. In my opinion, the biggest challenge is when your boss lies to you... not just once, but as part of a repeated pattern.

Why is this so hard?  Because you never know what to believe. You're standing on shifting sand in every moment of every conversation. You can't trust your boss's direction or support. Worse yet, it can impact how others perceive you by association.

In today's Coach on Call, we're talking about what to do when your boss lies to you.

Here's the Q:
"What do you do if your boss lies straight to your face? She does it all the time and makes me look like an idiot sometimes. She makes it seem kind of like I'm the liar or we had a "misunderstanding." I'm frustrated, but I like my job. I don't want to quit. I'm not sure what to do?"
You always have options, but sometimes only one option really makes the most sense. 

Let's dig in.

Why Lie?  

We could ponder for days why your boss is lying to you. Instead, let's just write it off to one of these inadequacies:

  • Wielding power 
  • Attempting manipulation 
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Practicing self-protection
  • Hiding a weakness
  • Avoiding conflict

The list actually goes on and on. Maybe she's just a jerk. The point is that the "why" doesn't really matter. You'll probably never fully understand why your boss lies. Your bigger concern is what to do about it.

Your Options.

You have three primary options for dealing with a boss who lies. In my opinion, the first two don't really count. Well, they count, but I don't recommend them. I'll share them anyway, but for the real answer, skip to #3!

1.  Play The Game. (NOT recommended, ever.)

With any workplace challenge you have the option to play the game you hate. Someone picks a fight; you fight back. Someone breaks the rules; you break them too. Someone steps out of bounds; you step too. There are times when playing the game is a viable option, even necessary.

When it comes to your boss and lies, I don't recommend playing the game. It's a slippery slope. It's a losing proposition. I listed it here, because it's an option to be sure, but it so easily backfires. I strongly recommend against it in this situation. (But you probably already knew that.)

2.  Push It Up. (NOT recommended, initially.)

Almost every organization provides an escalation path when things aren't going well with your boss. I'm here to tell you that companies usually hate when you escalate, unless there's something illegal, immoral, or otherwise reprehensible at play. You could argue that lying to someone in the workplace falls into two of those three categories. Still.

The point is this:  escalation should always be your last course of action unless you're really in one of those extreme situations. Trying to find a way to work with your boss serves you well every time - even if you try and fail. Make the effort before you head to human resources or your boss's boss to complain. It's more work, but it's always worth it. Sidebar: Try not to share too much of your frustration with your co-workers either. It's may come back to bite you.

3.  Turn It Around. (Your "real" option.)

Here's a hard cold truth:  People lie when they think they can get away with it. The only way to win a battle of truth with a boss who lies... is to make it harder for her to get away with it. Even the biggest offenders will normally stop because it becomes an exposure for them. 

Here's what to do:

a.  Watch for the signs.
When people lie in the workplace they usually have a few key "tells" without realizing it.  Avoiding eye contact. Varying the pitch or pace of voice (unintentionally). Turning the body away from you. Contradicting statements within a short period of time. Watch for these signs and you'll be surprised at how well you can spot the lies over time. At least you'll know when trouble is brewing.

b.  Ask questions and clarify.
At times, your boss may lie to you about something that doesn't matter. It's best to ignore it or say "Hmmm" so you can disengage from the topic. Focus your energy on important discussions instead, like those that involve direction, feedback, or a commitment to act.
Ask as many questions during the discussion as you can without being a detective. You can say, "I just want to be sure I understand. Is this right?" Or "So you're saying..." and repeat what they've said. Liars get uncomfortable when they have to expand on the lie or face scrutiny. She'll lie to you less often once this is part of a natural pattern in your discussions.

c. Create a habit of doc'ing it. 
Within 24 hours of the conversation, document it. Do this by sending a brief email to your boss, summarizing any key points that may impact you if they're not true. You can do this by asking a follow-up question associated with the discussion. Or by thanking her for explaining something to you. Or by listing what you understand to be your direction and next steps based on the discussion. 
Your goal? A written record of what was said. Your boss may start to tell you not to document discussions. It may make her uncomfortable. You can say it's just helpful to you for your own clarification or that it's how you ensure you don't have miscommunications. She can't really argue with that well-intentioned response. Your boss may still squirm out of a few situations when you catch her in a lie. Over time, though, what will happen is that your boss will choose to lie less - or perhaps not at all. By documenting "for the purpose of clarity," you make it too hard for her to lie without creating an exposure for herself.

Bottom Line

You have every right to expect your boss to be honest and straightforward. Unfortunately, we don't always get to choose our bosses or coworkers. Too often we have to navigate challenging relationships. I'm sorry you're in this situation. A boss who lies is tough, but it can be managed.

Your best bet is to make it uncomfortable or difficult for your boss to lie by using the truth as your shield. Watch for the signs. Ask questions. Document your understanding. And do all of that in a respectful way to fully protect yourself. If it's hard for your boss to lie to you, she'll do it less often. Liars are particularly keen on avoiding situations that will expose them.

You may be tempted to want to expose your boss to the world for the liar she is. It's really, really hard to do without getting some of the stink on you. No leader wants to think that someone on their team is a whistle-blower. When you blow the whistle on one person (who clearly deserves it), it still raises doubt as to what you might say about another leader down the road. The shadow of controversy lingers. It's better to avoid this if possible.

Focus exclusively on limiting the impact a boss's lies can have on you and your success. Help others who may be struggling with your boss's lies by sharing the same approach. Over time, things are very likely to improve. If things don't improve, you always have the option of escalating your concern. You'll know you've done your best to work it through and you'll have several examples of documented incidents for reference.

I hope this helped answer your question! Wishing you the best possible outcome in trying this approach with your boss.

More soon,


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