You would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks that telling the truth is not a good thing. Our parents, their parents and generations of wise men and women, leaders, warriors, martyrs, saints, poets and writers of all ilk encourage us to tell the truth. Most of us enter our adult years (or at least our teenage years) believing that the truth is good, that honesty is the foundation for strong relationships and that we will move through life more fluidly and unencumbered if we are sincere along the way. Our concept that “the truth shall set you free” comes from none other than Jesus Christ, who in John:32 tells his disciples that “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Simple, huh? Apparently not.
In her research documented in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Bella DePaulo, Ph.D. found that people lie in one in five of their daily interactions. Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, claims in her July 2011 TED Talk (which has garnered more than eight million views so far) that we’re lied to from 10 to 200 times a day. Meyer points out that strangers lie three times within the first few minutes of meeting; that we lie more to strangers than we do to co-workers; that men lie more about themselves; that women lie to protect others.
So why do we lie so much? To our friends? Our family? Our clients? Ourselves?
Turns out that there is no such thing as “a simple little lie.” As Meyer says, lying is complex – we are deeply ambivalent about the truth. Plus, lying is a cooperative act – its power emerges when someone is willing to participate. We are openly against lying, she says, be we are covertly for it. It is fundamentally human – lying is a desire to connect to what we wish to be – but it eventually is utterly destructive: lies destroy countries, companies, leaders, friendships and families.
When we discipline ourselves to stop lying and begin telling the truth, we can begin to build real trust.
This is true in all aspects of life, and I have learned it is the most powerful, authentic way to do business. The process is straightforward. Instead of telling clients what they want to hear, and engaging in the construction of a unstable set of near-truths to land a piece of business, we tell clients that we are going to tell the truth … and then we do. We listen. We immerse ourselves in their world. We work to understand their pain, and then, to their surprise – and often delight – we tell them what we really think about their problem and how to fix it. Sometimes this leads to a decision to work together, and sometimes it does not. But it always results in trust building, and all parties get to leave the conference room with their integrity and character intact.
This is not an effortless or cavalier way to do business or to live your life. It is actually a giant leap of faith – a risk of rather epic proportions. But it’s real, and, as The Man said, the truth will set you free.