For Christmas, your aunt knits you a sweater that is absolutely hideous. You either tell her, 1) “I’d go out in a plastic bag before wearing that;” 2) “It would look better on a chicken;” or 3) “It’s beautiful, Aunt Sylvia! I really needed a sweater.”
If you chose the third response, you’re a liar. Don’t feel bad, however, if the truth be told, most of us lie to some degree, especially when we are faced with an alternative like hurting the feelings of poor Aunt Sylvia.
Some of us, however, lie so often that we don’t realize it. That’s when it becomes the sort of problem that may require professional help. So, what’s the difference between being diplomatic and being deceptive?
The most common fibs are relatively harmless ones. They’re minor evasions told to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or to avoid conflict. For example, “Of course, I’m not angry you were 40 minutes late.” Studies were done by behavioral experts and they seemed to agree that these “white lies” are acceptable in moderation to preserve social harmony.
Many people don’t want to hear the awful truth every time. Let”s say your friend asks you how she looks in her dress. She probably wants to hear that she looks great. If she doesn’t look great, and you tell her the truth, you would create conflict and have to deal with the results that will follow.
The problem arises when people rationalize that “nonwhite” lies are acceptable and necessary in certain situations. Getting caught in a lie can often destroy relationships.
Lying has consequences. When someone finds out you have lied, it affects how that person deals with you forever. If your spouse lies, you may be able to work it out in therapy, but an employer is not likely to forgive and the trust will be broken.
Even if you convince yourself a lie is OK, it still violates the dictates of conscience.
Here’s what to consider:
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Would anyone be harmed if I withhold a bit of the truth?
- Can someone change and grow from my honest feedback, or am I being unnecessarily blunt by giving an honest opinion that is hurtful?
- How would it feel if someone withheld the truth from me under the same circumstances?
- Is avoiding the truth in this situation an act of cowardice, or of compassion?
Be your own lie detector
All but the hardened liar has some anxiety when telling a lie. Lie detectors are based on the theory that our bodies react physically when we don’t respond truthfully.
Some experts have recommended that we look for clusters of signals when trying to spot a liar. The signals may include:
- Avoiding eye contact or shifting eyes
- Stuttering, pausing or clearing the throat
- Changing voice tone or volume
- Offering multiple excuses for a situation, instead of just one
- Standing in a defensive posture with arms crossed over the chest
- Reddening slightly on the face or neck
- Rubbing, stroking, or pulling on the nose
- Making a slip of the tongue while denying something
- Deflecting attention from the issue
- Appearing uncomfortable