Strategies For Handling Lying In The Retail Workplace

Strategies For Handling Lying In The Retail Workplace

Most people lie. It just is a fact. A depressing fact. We working in an industry where hidden agendas, covering up errors, assigning blame, and outright lying is an unfortunate daily activity –  throughout the the entire hierarchical structure of the retail organization.

According to Pamela Meyer, CEO of Calibrate, “Two-year-olds bluff. Five-year-olds lie outright. They manipulate via flattery. Nine-year-olds, masters of the cover-up. By the time you enter college, you’re going to lie to your mom in one out of every five interactions. By the time we enter this work world and we’re breadwinners, we enter a world that is just cluttered with a deception epidemic — in short, what one author calls a post-truth society.”

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And, if it makes us feel any better, humans aren’t the only ones who lie, the famous signing gorilla, Koko, once blamed her pet kitten for ripping a sink out of the wall. Here are some interesting tidbits about lying: [Source: Liespotting]

  • Humans detect lies with only 54% accuracy;
  • Between 75% and 82% of lies go undetected;
  • Of the lies we tell, 25% are for someone else’s sake;
  • Lies fall into three broad categories: (1) those we tell for our own benefit, (2) those that benefit someone else, and (3) those that benefit both ourselves and others;
  • Avoiding eye contact is the most presumed sign of lying around the world—even though it’s false;
  • Law enforcement officials—including FBI agents, customs agents and judges— performed no better than the average person in detecting deception.

On a given day, according to Social psychologist Jerald Jellison of the University of Southern California, you may be lied to anywhere from 10 to 200 times. Granted, many of those are social lies. But in another study, it showed that strangers lied three times within the first 10 minutes of meeting each other.

Just consider the impact this has on hiring talent and effectively leading teams. Of course, liars will be found in every industry. However, I believe that retail is so protective of its outdated processes, antiquated policies, and destructive focus on compliance first – we encourage people covering up for mistakes and making excuses for why they failed. And the truly disappointing fact is that when you are a passionate and committed truth-teller, colleagues of all levels are put off by your honesty, even the cautiously shaped kind – so used to being pacified by “social lies” or dealing with lazy leaders who don’t want the hassle of conversation or the possible risk of confrontation. Honesty often creates friction, discontent, and HR issues in the workplace that takes the focus off of the goals and objectives of the business.

Types Of Lies We Hear/Tell In Retail

  • Social Lies [White Lies]: A social or white lie is often called the least serious of all lies. People tell white lies claiming to be tactful or polite. But telling white lies consistently can cause conflict with others because over time they understand the insincerity. That is why white liars can lose their credibility.
  • Broken Promises: Broken promises are a failure to keep your commitment or promise. Broken promises can be especially damaging when the person who made the promise had no intentions whatsoever of keeping their word to begin with and this will absolutely kill a retail leader’s credibility.
  • Fabrications: Also known as either starting or perpetuating rumors and/or gossip. These are frequently filled with malicious intent to hurt or injure someone’s reputation.
  • Exaggeration/Half-Truths: Exaggeration is weaving fiction into truth by adding lies to it. The retail team member who exaggerates usually mixes truths and untruths to make themselves look better, gain sympathy, or seem more interesting to others.

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  • Lying By Omission: A deceiver tries to create an impression that causes others to be misled, by not telling all the facts, or creating a false impression. As this type of lie relates to leaving out facts to create a better scenario. Those of us who have been in retail for a while can frequently identify inconsistency and incongruity in dialogs and communication from all levels of coworkers.
  • Pathological or Compulsive Lying: Compulsive lying is often caused by low self-esteem and a need for attention; in fact, the compulsive liar finds it almost impossible to stop. A compulsive liar tells their lies even when telling the truth would be easier [and better].
  • Protective Lies: This is an altruistic alternative to hurting someone’s feelings. You tell your team that their windows look great because you don’t want to ruffle any feathers. This give the team a false sense of accomplishment and when you finally have to address improvements they feel blind-sided and upset by your change in attitude.
  • Assigning Blame/Excuses: Because you didn’t meet the standards or the deadline of a project or metric achievement. We place blame on people or processes instead of owning the issue. Strong retail leaders and team members do not need to wait for, nor do they count on, anyone else’s contribution to complete their work – they own their results and will get what they need to deliver. Most people don’t see this as a form of lying but it is.

Why We Lie At Work


The issue of lying of omission is built in to our work lives.  Especially in retail, you’re late – you sneak into work hoping no one notices. If you work in a store you manually adjust your time that day and hope that no one checks the video or the alarm. We become “yes” men to our boss(es) because we want to have a great working relationship. A 2011 study from Drexel University suggested that workers who sucked up with falsities were less stressed than their committed to honesty colleagues.

“Bad apple” theory: A few jerks in an organization conduct themselves unethically, but everyone else (especially the junior employee) is duped into believing that somehow what they’re seeing is acceptable – that can be anything from lacking transparency to covering up challenging business.

“Bad barrel” theory: This is modeled from the top down, creating the equivalent of social norms in which cheating, deception, and lying are an accepted part of daily life. We hear about this frequently with start-ups that are hitting the market hard only to implode a year or two later because of poor leadership and a loose culture, a recent example of this is Zenefits.

Is Lying Really Harmful?

It depends on the type of lie, and the type of liar you’re experiencing. Prolific liars, which is a common type in retail, have two salient characteristics: First, they are morally weak, so they don’t see lying as wrong – they rationalize it to themselves and others. Second, most people will only lie when they perceive they are under pressure, compulsive liars do it even when they are feeling good or in control of things, simply because they enjoy it.  If you’re dealing with a pathological liar, that person likely has strong social skills and is pretty darn smart – these people will look you in the eye and lie without hesitation.

Lying’s complex. It’s woven into the fabric of our daily and our business lives. We’re deeply ambivalent about the truth. We parse it out on an as-needed basis, sometimes for very good reasons, other times just because we don’t understand the gaps in our lives. That’s truth number two about lying. We’re against lying, but we’re covertly for it in ways that our society has sanctioned for centuries and centuries and centuries. It’s as old as breathing. It’s part of our culture, it’s part of our history. Think Dante, Shakespeare, the Bible, News of the World. [Source: Pamela Meyer]

Effective liars tend to have higher levels of emotional intelligence, which lets them manipulate emotional signs in communication, monitor your reactions and nonverbal cues. They are diabolically innovative, at times. The distribution of lies follows Pareto’s principle: 20% of people tell 80% of the lies, and 80% of people account for the remaining 20% of lies.

Neuropsychological evidence suggests that lying requires higher working memory capacity, which is strongly related to IQ.

According to a survey, women are twice as likely to lie as men. A shocking four in five women tell lies on a daily basis. Some women even admit to doing so as many as 30 times a day – the equivalent of twice every waking hour, a survey has revealed. This compares with two out of five men who said they tended to tell lies every day.

Carol Kinsey Goman, author of the book “The Truth About Lies in the Workplace,” conducted a survey of “business professionals” and found that 53% admitted to lying. The lies were largely to cover up job performance issues or as a means of career advancement.

Dishonesty is pervasive and could develop into a destructive pattern only to compromise workplace morale and productivity. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent every employee in the workplace from being dishonest, but you can initiate a positive workplace culture when setting honesty as one of the non-negotiable values of the business.

How Can We Support An Honest Workplace?


  • Don’t Be Hypocritical:
    First of all, we have all heard the phrase “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” You can’t have expectations from your team when you don’t model the values yourself. It isn’t fair for your team or any colleague to learn that you have been dishonest and then turn around and ask them to be honest – or even terminate them for their dishonesty. Once your coworkers find out about your dishonesty, they will no longer trust you.
  • Don’t Punish Employees For Mistakes:
    Mistakes happen. In an organization that values honesty and integrity, your team will come to you and make you aware of the mistakes, but if your react negatively they will most likely not come to you anymore and fix issues alone, or they will be dishonest about mistakes and hide them. That is a value you create as a retail leader. We want our employees to be innovative risk-takers and we have to support this as a real initiative that delivers results.
  • Focus On The Facts:
    In retail, team members are frequently trying to make others look bad to gain elevated status either in title or reputation. The retail workplace can be a conniving atmosphere, that is why it is so important to know your team and understand the individuals that make up a team and model the behaviors, respect, trust, and communication that are conducive to creating a culture that values honesty and integrity.
  • Promote An Honest & Open Communication:
    I recognize this seems a little…”duh”, but creating a culture and a value initiative where we share the good, bad, ugly is critical to others feeling comfortable sharing their wins and losses. Honest communication represents a key factor in keeping an organization, mostly, free from rumors, negativity, and dishonesty. Allow employees to voice concerns, offer solutions and seek help without the fear of embarrassment or retaliation. Get rid of policies that encourage people to lie, for example: letting employees take “mental health days” so they don’t lie about sick days to offering incentives that promote the value of honest behavior/communication.
  • Address Dishonesty Immediately:
    When faced with situations of dishonesty at work, dealing with them immedaitely benefits everyone in the long run. Mistakes happen, and covering them up only perpetuates the behavior. Your executive, senior leadership, and coworkers will appreciate that you’re addressing the issue and fixing it before it becomes a recurring issue with a person or a topic.
  • Promote A Solutions-Oriented Culture:
    This would be a big win for retail. Commit to honest leadership as an aggregate executive and leadership team – for example, look for solutions to problems rather than placing blame. Creative and innovative employees will bring ideas, suggestions, and action to overcoming obstacles. Sometimes their ideas will work and sometimes they will not but we have to create a safe place where people support their organization to deliver great results in customer experience and metrics.

In an emotionally congenial, high-trust environment, where thinking you have to protect or defend yourself happens less and less frequently, the most destructive kinds of workplace lies diminish with startling rapidity, leaving the kindly, well-intentioned ‘social lies’ greater and greater scope to do their good work. – Carol Kinsey Goman


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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