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  • Writer's pictureChuck Cusumano

Lies, Lies, and More Lies – and How to Build a Culture of Truth

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus

Content warning: this blog may be inappropriate for young children, individuals that only read "feel good" blogs, and those who are prone to use the term ‘you're overthinking it’ – proceed with caution!

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.

We are taught this rhyme as children. It is a way to help us learn to disregard hurtful words and childhood bullying... But it is a lie.

Santa Clause will bring you all those gifts if you are a good boy or girl. (We warned you this may not be appropriate for young children!)

For some, this is part of conditioning our children to behave. For others, it is part of a religious season of celebration. And for many businesses that rely on consumer consumption to survive, it is a marketing tool that must perpetuate to keep production and profits going... But it is a lie.

Don’t swim right after eating, if you swallow gum it stays in your stomach for 7 years, and all of the other childhood lies we were told and believed as children are just ways to condition us... But condition us how?

A study published in the International Journal of Psychology found that 84 percent of parents in the United States lie to their children to make them behave. It is called “instrumental lying.”

According to Pamela Meyer's TED Talk on lying, we're lied to anywhere from 10 to 200 times, and lie one to two times per day ourselves! University of Massachusetts psychologist Robert Feldman has studied lying for more than a decade, and has found that 60 percent of people lie during a typical 10-minute conversation, and averaging two to three lies during that short timeframe. This adds up to tens – maybe hundreds – of thousands of lies told over the course of a lifetime!

We start out in life by hearing and believing lies. They're innocent lies in most cases: stories and ideas to help condition us to the society we live in. But at what point are we reconditioned to not tell and believe in lies? For some of us, it is elementary school. For many of us – it is never!

Sure, we are not naïve here at The Joshua Group. We acknowledge there is a need for ‘white lies’ when it comes to social interactions and the necessary ‘grease’ needed to keep the friction at a minimum when we rub up against one another in society. We're all guilty of responding to a "How are you?" with a "Fine," when – in reality – your boss just told you that the promotion and raise you were hoping for did not happen. Or that you just received word your best friend was admitted to the hospital. However, we just say the words (as untruthful as they are) and keep walking. We are conditioned to lie and to be lied to. And in the correct social settings, this works fine. It is when we cross the undefined-fuzzy-gray line that things start to go off track.

We are so good at lying and it is so common that we have invented words to describe lies about lying: spin, alternative truth, smooth, subterfuge, falsehood, fib, story-telling, covertness, equivocation, evasion, double-dealing, deception, craftiness, duplicitous, and the list goes on! We continue to come up with more acceptable words and phrases to describe an activity that we all do (to some extent) each day. Why can we not just say, that is a lie? defines a lie as: a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; something intended or serving to convey a false impression; an inaccurate or untrue statement.

So when a coworker asks over a Zoom call, with 12 others on the screen, "How does my new haircut look?," they want a lie! The only appropriate response without fear of harassment is to say "Great, amazing, you look 10 years younger!" Or, as Jack Nicholson told us in the movie A Few Good Men, “The truth, the truth, you can not handle the truth!” And therein lies the problem! The truth!

In the book of Proverbs, it states:-

There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to Him:

haughty eyes,

a lying tongue,

hands that shed innocent blood,

a heart that devises wicked schemes,

feet that run swiftly to evil,

a false witness who gives false testimony,

and one who stirs up discord among brothers.

And from the 10 commandments that God spoke to Moses, the 9th one was: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” – NIV Exodus 20:16.

Most of us accept the fact that if you lie under oath in a court of law you will have committed the crime of perjury. Most of us accept the fact that if you lie on your taxes you are guilty of the crime of tax evasion. Most of us accept the fact that if you lie in an official capacity you are doing something wrong. As a society, we have gotten closer and closer to the fuzzy-gray line of ‘white lie’ vs. ‘real lie.' And the closer and more often we bump up against that line, the more acceptable it becomes to ask for and receive lies.

If you photoshop the pictures that you post on your social media, are you showing the truth or are you showing a lie? Where is the line? If you embellish your resume just a little because everyone else does – is that a lie or just smart business? If you skip putting a job on your resume because you know they may not say positive things about you, is that an understandable move or are you being untruthful? Where does it end? And how can we fix it?

How do we start to go in a direction that leads the other way? Like most things in consulting, coaching, and training that we work in – you start where you are! Here are some tips to help you on that journey.

  • Be objective, not subjective, as much as possible. Use facts, figures, and quantitative measures to evaluate something. Or as one of our mantras at The Joshua Group states: “As evidenced by what?” How does my haircut look? – It looks just like the ones I see in all of the trendy magazines. Your stylist did a good job replicating that. We do not need to make it a value judgement on the person; just evaluate the evidence of the haircut.

  • Give others specific and measurable guidelines to be evaluated on. If they meet the goal, then say so. If they did not meet the goal, then state that. No need to give a ‘white lie.’ You can still be positive and encouraging, even if the goal was not met.

  • Stop asking for others to lie to you. Do not put others in a position to judge you unless you tell them it is ok to tell you the real truth. And even then, they may not. Most times, it is an attempt to get affirmation. The problem is that we do not give people an opportunity to bow out. If you really want feedback, send out an anonymous survey and blend the results. Stop putting others in an awkward position so they must tell you the acceptable ‘white lie.’ You may start believing it as truth!

  • Give credit and acknowledgment where deserved. Cite your sources. Let others know where the information came from. It is so easy to copy and paste from others' work. Plagiarism is a lie. Having a ghostwriter is the fuzzy-gray area between the truth and a lie. If someone helped you write out your thoughts in a coherent way, give them credit somewhere in the publication! Otherwise, isn’t it a lie when only your name is on the work?

We may not stop the tidal wave of fake news, title inflation (everyone seems to be a CEO), resume fluff, and photoshopping all of our pictures, but we can start to be more objective in how we evaluate the people that we work with and how we represent our products, services, prices, and ourselves in the marketplace. The real harm in all of the lying is that we start to believe our own lies!

If you need help creating a culture of truth and evidenced-based evaluations, drop us a line at We can handle the truth!

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