Is it OK to Tell a Little White Lie?

Pinnocchio

Lie and grow a Pinocchio nose

How often have you heard that a presentation, or a media interview, is no more than story telling? And that’s true. As a speaker, you’d grab your audience with an opening such as “Imagine that you are about to find a cure for cancer.”

That is sure to get everyone’s attention. But then if you go on to say that cancer has been eradicated, you’ve crossed the line into lying.

That is an egregious  example, but little white lies can turn into big ones and eventually your reputation will be destroyed when you’re found out.  And lying is becoming all too common.

Can You Stretch the Truth?

No! Reporters and competitors can now track your every word by searching the Internet. They are like a dog with a bone. They will dig and dig and what they learn may come back to bite you.

Whether it’s a sales call or a presentation, people too often exaggerate the numbers. Tell the truth and back it up with facts. If you are quoting a study, then be sure to give the proper attribution. If you use a phrase that you read somewhere, be sure you give credit to the author.

There are so many lies out there — eventually the liar can’t remember whom s/he told what to. The lies take on a life of their own and are bound to create a crisis situation.

There used to be filters and boundaries and now there are none. What you say lives forever on the Internet — not just today or tomorrow but in perpetuity.

Give Credit Where it’s Due

Sales meetings are full of hyperbole — a former MCI executive didn’t realize reporters were in the room when he said, “Let’s get Ma Bell and her seven little bastards.” That turned into quite a popular sound bite. Nowadays everyone is tweeting what speakers are saying and once you say it, you can’t take it back.

Be sure to do your research before you make a claim, especially if one for your own organization. To be innovative, or first, with a new idea is difficult. If it’s not your original idea, you need to credit whomever started it.

Where Are They Now?

Reporters and writers are not immune from telling lies and exaggerating the truth. Jack Kelley, a former USA Today foreign correspondent, fabricated substantial portions of major stories, stole material from competitors and even lied in speeches before he was exposed.

It took noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin years to repair her reputation after she was accused of plagiarizing from several sources in her hugely popular The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, a 1987 bestseller that later was made into a successful TV miniseries.

benfranklinAnd possibly the most notorious scoundrel of recent memory, Bernard Madoff, destroyed hundreds of lives with the collapse of his financial empire — all built on lies.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

Bottom line: There is no such thing as a “little” white lie.

There is no substitute for honesty.

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