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Would I lie to you?

Would I lie to you?
cassandra.jpg

In the days of Ancient Greece, when the Greek army was trying to destroy Troy, there lived a young woman called Cassandra.

She was a special person. As well as being beautiful and one of the daughters of the king of Troy, she was an accomplished prophetess. Not surprisingly, such a combination of beauty, social status, and talent attracted the attention of a top executive in the prophesy trade. In this case, it was the god Apollo.

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Apollo wanted to be her mentor. At least, he wanted her, since the Greek gods had some very sexist and macho notions about how to treat beautiful human maidens. She resisted. And when he got too pressing, she told a pack of lies as a way out.

Apollo was the god of truth.

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Being pretty vindictive when he didn’t get his own way (not unlike many top executives today), and finding in her lies a way to wriggle out of facing his own bad behavior (ditto), Apollo placed a curse on Cassandra. From then on, every prophesy she made would be absolutely true . . . but no one would believe her. She would foresee every disaster—including the ruin of her city, her father’s death, and her own murder—and be helpless to warn people or prevent any of these things happening.

Valuing your credibility
That’s what happens when you resort to lying to get out of a tough situation. You forfeit your credibility and leave a route for others to weasel their way out of responsibility for their actions. Once the lie is discovered (and they nearly always are), no one will believe you again. Once you have acted dishonestly, other people will use it to hide behind.

Integrity seems a small thing, especially when times are tough and holding onto it promises nothing but misery and failure. Like the god Apollo, the people who rule over our working lives aren’t always fair or even ethical. Cassandra didn’t deserve to be faced with a demand to give sexual favors to the boss. Nor a choice between standing up for herself, and maybe suffering whatever rejected gods inflict on humans who refuse them, or lying to escape. It wasn’t a fair choice. It wasn’t right. But that’s the way the world is sometimes.

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Hopefully none of you will ever have to face such a dreadful situation, but milder versions of the same dilemma are very frequent:

  • You suspect that the figures showing your unit met its targets were manipulated for that purpose. Do you mention your concerns or keep quiet and hope no one notices?
  • You know that inflating expense claims is common practice amongst many of your colleagues. Do you join in? Do you say anything?
  • A report that throws doubt on safety and quality statements made in your company’s advertising is suppressed. Do you blow the whistle?
  • A customer’s complaint is valid but will cost money to put right and embarrass the business. Do you argue to acknowledge the error, or help stonewall and delay until the customer gives in and goes away?
  • Your boss tells you to do something you suspect is unethical, even illegal, to help bolster the quarter’s profits. Do you go along with it and earn a reputation for being a good team-player; or refuse and risk being top of the boss’s list for removal at the earliest opportunity?

Taking the easy way out
It’s so tempting to tell a few minor lies and walk away from the problem. Maybe you’ll even get a pat on the back and be praised for saving the business a few dollars. And it will be so boring and inconvenient to stick by the truth and risk being disliked by colleagues and put under suspicion by those in power. Everybody does it. Right?

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There’s always a price.

The myth of Cassandra is about that price. Greek myths may use gods as players, but they are always about entirely human choices. Apollo acted like the worst kind of sanctimonious, bullying boss. Cassandra responded as many of us might: she thought she had found an easy way out that didn’t involve confronting someone powerful, so she took it. But sometimes, as she discovered, you pay more for trying to lie your way of out a problem than you might have done for dealing with it head on.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life, and its companion site Slower Living. His recent articles on similar topics include Integrity versus convenience and Is being right really worth it?. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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