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Seek Out the Truth
How to Deal With Workplace Liars

October 2015
Leadership authority Roxi Bahar Hewertson, CEO of Highland Consulting Group, Inc. and AskRoxi.com, brings over three decades of practical experience in the worlds of business, higher education and nonprofits. She is an entrepreneur, consultant, speaker and author of the book, “Lead Like it Matters...Because it Does.”

Leadership authority Roxi Bahar Hewertson, CEO of Highland Consulting Group, Inc. and AskRoxi.com, brings over three decades of practical experience in the worlds of business, higher education and nonprofits. She is an entrepreneur, consultant, speaker and author of the book, “Lead Like it Matters…Because it Does.”

I have a word for liars in the workplace: I call them “Termites.” The term fits well because these people work their way inside the organization’s structures, manage to smile and slide their way into the accepted norms and culture, and then wreak havoc just underneath the surface. Really skilled termites are hard to spot until they’ve done so much damage, and the walls fall down. This is often discovered right after termites have moved on to fresh territory.

The best way to prevent termite damage is to have a very strong set of organizational values that include integrity or truth or a similar concept around honesty. You could liken those values to a strong foundation in a house and rebar in the walls. When these are firmly in place and people are measured objectively and regularly against those values, termites find fewer and fewer places to hide. Checks and balances also need to be in place, so that no single person has unfettered power and influence within their workgroup. When they do, they will use that power to disguise their damage and isolate their people from others to create a protective cover for their dirty deeds.

You will learn more quickly about termites in your midst if you pay attention to things that don’t quite add up, watch how people behave, and manage by walking around frequently. Termites can’t fool everyone all the time. Pick up on conversations, patterns, and become a deep listener, truly hearing ALL of what people are trying to tell you.

Once you’ve discovered a termite in your midst, ask and don’t assume anything. Keep asking questions and requiring answers that are backed up by more than this person’s word or even their reports. Get multiple sources to verify what you need to know. The other essential ingredient is having a “safety net” within your organization where people can go to express their concerns without fear and with anonymity. You’ll know if you get multiple stories and there is a pattern to the liar’s behavior. If you get anonymous mail under your door – I call them POW notes – don’t ignore them. They could be cranks, but more than likely they are smoke signals sending you a message you need to hear.

Never assume anything, and trust your instincts. If a person’s story or behavior feels fishy to you, there’s usually something there to investigate. And trust what you see and hear with all that body language people are telegraphing to you. Finally, the old adage, pay attention to “he or she who protests too much!”

There are big liars and little liars. People who exaggerate or use hyperbole are generally not termites. These people can usually be guided down a better path with good coaching. However, don’t delude yourself into thinking you can “fix” a termite. Once a professional workplace liar, always a liar –it’s just the size of the lies and who hears them that will vary. You cannot coach a liar into honesty. Lying is OK for them; it’s part of their value system. For them, the end does justify the means. The only solution to a workplace termite is to call in pest control and rid yourself of the pain and damage as soon as you can. I95

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