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What Do You Say to a Liar?

Like so many young managers, Martha fell into the “lying trap”. Her boss asked her if she had followed-up on a sensitive customer issue and she said “yes.” But she hadn’t. Now she was in a fix. What would she do next? In a minute, I’ll tell you what happened. Have you ever suspected that someone you lead at work has lied to you? What did you do? I think confronting employees who have lied is very challenging, especially for less experienced leaders, and how you prepare for those conversations can make all the difference.

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Like so many young managers, Martha fell into the “lying trap”. Her boss asked her if she had followed-up on a sensitive customer issue and she said “yes.” But she hadn’t. Now she was in a fix. What would she do next? In a minute, I’ll tell you what happened.

Have you ever suspected that someone you lead at work has lied to you? What did you do? I think confronting employees who have lied is very challenging, especially for less experienced leaders, and how you prepare for those conversations can make all the difference. On April 30th at 9:00 am EST, we are hosting a free Webinar called “Uncovering the Truth – How to Prepare For and Have This Difficult Conversation.” If this topic interests you, I invite you to attend.

The Case of the Lying Martha

As I noted earlier, Martha said “yes” when she should have said “no”. But what made Martha’s case worse is that when she said, “Yes, I communicated with the customer,” she also told her supervisor she did so by e-mail. So, naturally, the supervisor asked her to forward the e-mail so he could review it.

It took Martha about a day to forward the e-mail, which was the first warning sign. As we studied the e-mail trail we discovered timing and date errors. It was now likely that not only did Martha lie about the initial customer communication; she then worked hard to cover it up. If this was true, Martha was not someone we wanted leading one of our teams. But how could we get all the facts?

  1. We started with a clear objective – get to the facts. We then developed a course of action based on what facts we discovered. If “A” happened, we would take “B” action. If “C” happened, we would take “D” action.
  2. We knew we needed a face-to-face meeting with Martha, so the supervisor called and set-up a time to meet. The supervisor was careful not to project concern over the phone, but did say he wanted to talk about the customer and other operational topics.
  3. We then planned a step-by-step process of how the supervisor would proceed through the e-mail trail so Martha and the supervisor could discover what actually happened. As the discrepancy in dates and times became apparent, the supervisor would ask Martha how this could happen. We were hopeful during this step Martha would admit she changed the dates and wrote the e-mail responses herself.
  4. If Martha was not able to explain the discrepancies and did not admit to lying, then the supervisor would ask, “Based on what you and I have now discovered, Martha, what do you think, I think happened?” Goal is to get Martha to say out loud what a third party would likely think. This often leads to an admission.
  5. If Martha continues to deny any wrong-doing, then the supervisor should tell her he is going to call the customer to verify the e-mail sequence and insure customer satisfaction. This step may lead Martha to tell the truth because now she could see that another person would learn she was dishonest and she might not want that.
  6. If Martha doesn’t admit to falsification, then the supervisor should call the customer and try to verify satisfaction and also the dates of communication.
  7. After the customer call, the management team would convene and determine what to do next.

When someone lies, especially a younger person, and quickly admits it, I tend to forgive them and offer them a second chance. I usually tell them they did the right thing by admitting they lied and then work on what lessons they learned. But when someone, especially a manager, lies AND tries to cover it up – they have a character flaw and we don’t want that person leading a team. Unfortunately, we’ve had to deal with a few of these folks over the years.

Epilog

Are you wondering what happened to Martha? On his way to the face-to-face meeting the supervisor got a call from Martha. She said something had come up and she couldn’t make the meeting. Shortly thereafter she resigned – Martha knew she had been caught lying and covering-up and didn’t want to go through the angst a face-to-face meeting would cause her.

I know you may be thinking, “They didn’t really need to plan that conversation, did they?” However, what you don’t know is that rarely do these situations go this smoothly and having a plan can make all the difference.

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