Liar, Liar …

Pinocchio - Enrico Mazzanti {PD-1923}“The only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves.”

V.S. Naipaul

For no reason I will share publicly, let’s think a bit today on the types of un-truths we may speak in the course of living our lives.  Here’s my shot at identifying a few major categories, some of which overlap at times.  Shoot, a good liar could probably hit three or four of these with one well-constructed and spiteful statement:


The good old-fashioned whopper, where we just do not tell the truth.  We deliberately say something that is not true about a person, an event, or a situation.  Perfected by small children wishing to escape punishment, as in “I didn’t do it.”  To truly lie by commission, you have to claim something that is not true about a person, an event, or a situation.   “The check is in the mail” and “I’m just finishing up that report and you will have it tomorrow morning” are adult examples. 

NOTE:  Complexity is often part of lying.  In the report example, you will note that two separate events are being referenced.  The reality of this situation may be:

1)  I have started the report, but not yet finished it.

2) I have not started the report, but will do so now.

3)  I have not started the report and have no serious intention of doing so anytime soon.

4)  I do not know what report to which you refer.

5)  I have finished the report, but forgot to deliver it to you.

6)  I have finished the report, but am not concerned with getting it to you quickly.

7)  I have finished the report and will tell another lie tomorrow about why you do not yet have it.

8) I finished the report and sent it, but to the wrong address/person and I am not going to admit that in a million years.

9)  I started the report and realized I was missing something important, so have started over at the last minute.


Sometimes we lie when we leave something out, or as I like to say, “forget” to include some essential piece of information.  Sometimes it’s not what we say, but what we do not say.  I may tell my wife that I stopped at the grocery store and the cleaners on my way home, but “forget” to mention a stop-off at the book store, which might have been more expensive than the other two stops combined.


We lie when we make a thing seem more than it is … more important, more serious, more impacting.  For examples, see much of what is said when adolescents are talking to each other.  “It was like the most exciting thing ever!!!” is an exaggeration, unless the Sun has just gone dark or exploded … then it would be pretty accurate.  Applied to things we encounter on a daily basis, not so much.

Telling someone your product or service is “The Best In The World” fits well as an example here.


Self-Serving statements which reduce or eliminate concerns, impacts, and issues.  “No problem” is both an irritating modern phrase and an example of what someone says to calm you down when things have not gone as planned.   “We can fix this” is often viewed as a verbal symbol of Yankee ingenuity, but can also be viewed as a way to keep people calm while you figure out how to patch an iceberg sized hole in the side of your ocean liner.

Minimizing the risk or outcome of something is a time-honored practice in business and was probably started by someone in middle management who did not have the authority to solve a problem, but did not want to just admit that.


When the goal of a non-truth is to hurt someone else.  Sometimes we just say things to be mean.  Anything identifiable as gossip can go into this category.  When what is coming out of your mouth does not match what is in your head or your heart, you are probably just being mean.

You are so brave to wear last year’s style” – extra points for passive-aggressive statements such as this.


White lies, such as husbands and wives tell each other when asked about aging signs, clothing fit, and such, do not count.  You get a pass if your untruth is meant to safeguard someone’s feelings, especially when the issue at stake is relatively minor.


Lying to someone just to protect them from being uncomfortable or hurt is not a good option.  When the cost of lying is more than the cost of being truthful, choose the truth and deliver it in a respectful, kind, and direct fashion.

BTW, honest cynicism is not lying.  If I say “I don’t think that is true”, I am expressing disbelief, but not trying to misrepresent that thing.


Leaders try to avoid telling lies, even as the cost of telling the truth grows.  A leader cannot function without earning the trust of those we serves.  A leader cannot earn trust from others if they are not truthful and honest, sometimes to a fault.  

Leaders simply tell the truth … after all, when you lie to another, you are also lying to yourself. 

What have I missed or misstated in this consideration of lying and all that jazz?

Trying real hard not to tell a lie in the Heartland….  



Image:  Pinocchio by Enrico Mazzanti {PD-23} – Wikipedia in the public domain