The social contract that we all follow includes the normalization of lying. White lies are expected, viewed to be a part of polite conversation and valuing the feelings of others over truth.
And if you don’t adhere to that contract, others will hem and haw over the breach of social etiquette. They ask, “What’s wrong with you? Why couldn’t you be more polite?”
That creates social pressure to get back into line and stick to the terms of the social contract.
And we wonder why we have such a hard time forging trusting relationships with a coworker, friend, or romantic interest.
There is no getting around it. Lying is part of our culture and social contract. You would think it would come as no great surprise when it happens, but it’s still easy to be blindsided and shocked when someone you thought you could trust lies to you.
But how should you respond when you find out someone has lied to you?
Assess The Situation And Context
Context is an important part of assessing any situation. White lies are unfortunate, but they are a general part of social interaction and getting to know a person. However, it is not unreasonable to expect a large amount of tactful truth from the people you are close to.
The weight of a lie should be assessed in the context of the situation as well as your relationship with the person. It is more forgivable to overlook a small lie told by a coworker or acquaintance so as to avoid creating unnecessary drama in your life. Sometimes, people lie out of insecurity, fear, or nervousness without even realizing that they’re doing it. It’s a survival mechanism of sorts.
On the other hand, you should be able to expect the truth from family, good friends, or a significant other. Lies told in close relationships undermine intimacy and connectivity with the people around you. And plenty of people out there do not have healthy relationships or families where people actually love and care about one another.
So ask: what’s the situation and the context? What is the lie? And, most importantly, what is their reason for telling it?
Say Nothing At All – Do Not Respond
Not all battles are worth fighting. There are so many voices out there that preach that you must stand up for yourself! That people treat you the way you allow them to treat you! And that’s absolutely true. People, by and large, will treat you in the way that you allow them. But standing up for yourself does not have to mean yelling and arguing with anyone. It can also mean simply walking away from the people that disrespect you.
The fact of the matter is, if you are in a position where you feel you need to “train” the people around you on how to treat you, it would be a much better idea for you to find a new group of people instead. Most people could change if they wanted to – but most don’t want to. Most don’t care either way. They are just trying to get through their day intact so they can get on with whatever it is they want to do.
Why waste months or years of your life trying to instill a basic level of respect in someone that couldn’t see enough value in you to do that initially? Doesn’t make much sense, really.
Oftentimes, the best response to a person lying to you is no response at all. Just file it away in your mind and keep moving forward. There is no reason to divulge everything you know. All confrontation usually gets you is more lies and manipulation.
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But I Must Confront The Person!
Alright. For whatever reason, you must confront the person. Maybe they are a loved one or someone who is an integral part of your life. It happens. Not everything in life can be clear-cut and simple.
The best way to confront a person is in a position of neutrality. You don’t want to be angry. If you are angry, it gives them ammunition to fire back at you, which will make you angrier, which will give them more ammunition, and on and on it goes. A calm approach gives you leverage to help determine the total truth.
Ask pointed, direct questions, and pay close attention to how the person responds. It’s common for a manipulator to throw out anger and try to instigate a fight, because it shifts a conversation to their terms. They may trot out phrases like, “I can’t believe you don’t trust me!?” and “Why would you accuse me of that?” as they try and shift the blame back to you.
Again, pick your battles. Not every battle is worth fighting. And if the person is chronically dishonest, then you’re not going to make any real progress. What often happens is the liar will simply apologize to you (even if they aren’t sorry), assure you that it will never happen again (which it probably will), and then you repeat the cycle over and over for years until you realize that they’re not going to change.
Liars And Manipulators In The Work Place
The wonderful world of employment can put us in proximity to a variety of people. Some will be great, others will be not so great. And you may be in a position in your life where you can’t just change jobs or quit on a whim. It’s not always that simple.
There are some good ways to handle working alongside a liar or manipulative person.
Do not divulge sensitive details of your personal life or work unless you absolutely need to. There’s no reason to give ammunition to a toxic person to harm you with later. Don’t let the person lull you into a false sense of security through phony friendliness or concern.
Do document as much as you can about your work with the person. You should be planning for the eventuality of that person throwing you to the wolves if something you’re both working on goes badly wrong. Documentation is what will prove that you were doing things the way you were supposed to be doing them, as asked.
And if it’s your boss? Well, that’s a whole different can of worms. Sometimes you can get results by side-stepping a manager and going above. Other times that will just get you fired or forced out. Most of the time, the better choice is to just start looking for another job if they have been there for a while, because they will have already manipulated management into liking them.
The Way Of The World…
It seems like the world just gets more difficult and confusing, day by day. Life is painful, and it causes a lot of harm to people that do not deserve it. We must all make choices about how we navigate life and who we let into our personal space. The most important thing to remember is that you cannot control the decisions of others.
There is little reason to allow a manipulator or liar to negatively impact your life. The more time you give to them, the less time you have for yourself or for kind people. Don’t waste your time and life on people you need to force honesty from. And if you do, don’t be surprised if they betray you again further down the road. People can change if they want to, but most don’t because change is hard or they just don’t see an issue with their behavior. That’s on them.
All you can really do is decide what you are willing to tolerate and what you should walk away from.