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STRONGER TOGETHER: Learning from the lies we tell

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Last updated: 23/01/2023

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses learning from the lies we tell.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Recently someone lied to me. At the time, I had no idea. They looked me straight in the eye, told their lie and went about their day. A few days later, they were unexpectedly caught out and were left with no other option but to own it.

This could have played out a few ways.

Option 1: Take it personally, behave poorly and use language that left no doubt in their mind about how I was feeling.

Option 2: Shut down, freeze them out and decide they were no longer worth my energy and effort as they can’t be trusted.

Option 3: Remain calm and use curiosity and open questions to dig into the reason for the lie and why they felt like they needed to lie in the first place.

Now let’s be honest. Being lied to is frustrating.

Lies can break bonds between people, erode trust and cause problems in relationships. Depending on the lie, we might find ourselves yelling, swearing, storming out, shaming the person, shutting down, spending hours, days or weeks questioning why and how they could have done what they did.

The reality is that people lie. Lies can vary from a small omission of detail to a flat-out furphy.

The reason for the lie might vary from a need to protect themselves from an unpleasant or conflict situation, to spare or protect another’s feelings, to keep a secret, to present a different (perceived better) version of themselves, to be liked and in some cases, to manipulate others.

Irrespective of the reason, it’s important that we recognise the choice to lie is made in that moment. And when we are on the receiving end of someone else’s lie, we recognise that we have a choice about how respond.

I am not proud to say it, however I have used Option 1 and 2 in the past, with a bit of name calling and talking about the person behind their back thrown in for good measure. It helps when others validate how much we have been wronged, doesn’t it?

Fortunately, over time, personal experience (and my children) has taught me that Option 3 can be much more effective. Sure, some lies are bigger than others, people can get hurt by lies, businesses can go out of business, and families can be destroyed.  

Option 3, however, provides me with greater power and choice.

It ensures that I continue to live by my values, maintain my integrity and enables me to detach from the emotion and use logic to gather information to determine what I do next.   I’d encourage you to ensure your response to a lie reflects your values, too.

We all create reasons to lie and validate in our own minds why we’ve done it. It doesn’t always make it right; however, it does provide an opportunity for growth and insight.

Consider these questions:

  • In what situations do you find yourself telling a lie?
  • Do you understand the reasons behind your choice to lie?
  • What effect does this have on your relationships?
  • How do you respond when you are lied to by someone?
  • How helpful has this response been in the past?

Next time you find yourself about to tell a lie, pause and think about whether lying is necessary and what is the worst thing that could happen by telling the truth? Is it worse than the consequences of being found out in a lie?

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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