The Importance of Honesty: Lessons From an Olympic Untruth
Recent events have brought this very basic idea to the tops of many of our minds: Honesty should be a critical part of our professional and personal brands. Building and maintaining trusting relationships is an important piece of any successful career.
News coverage from the Olympics was dominated by the actions of a few swimmers – and those actions had nothing to do with the years they’ve each spent training in the swimming pool. Many of the reports are conflicting. What really happened or how bad things were is unclear. What is clear is that the swimmers were not completely honest when they spoke to officials, their families, or the media. Regardless of how bad their actions were, their characters are now being scrutinized in detail. Their lives will be forever changed, both personally and financially, by something that may have seemed inconsequential in the moment.
We often find ourselves in somewhat similar situations at work. We’re trying to make it through the day. We have more on our plates than we can possibly manage, and we’re working to check everything off the list. At times, honesty, ethics, and doing the right thing can take a back seat to getting things done quickly or maintaining our reputations.
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Lying may be more common than you think. In fact, a 2002 University of Massachusetts study performed by psychologist Robert Feldman found that 60 percent of people lie at least once during a 10-minute conversation. According to the study, “most people lie in everyday conversation when they are trying to appear likable and competent.”
Although the number seems high, it makes sense when you consider the reasoning. Someone initially tells a small lie to make themselves look better. Who hasn’t done that?
But, if caught, a lie can truly impact how people see you going forward. People may question everything you have told them before and whether or not you will tell the truth in the future.
Telling a lie during an interview can cost you a job. If an employer catches something inaccurate on your resume or in other information you’ve shared along the way, you won’t receive an offer. If you’re fortunate enough to make it through the hiring process and the lie is discovered after you’ve started the job, it could be grounds for termination.
All that being said, accidents do happen. There are times when you accidentally communicate inaccurate information when you’re sincerely trying to be honest. When this happens, the best answer is to be straightforward with the truth. Dancing around the issue only sets you up to look like you were being dishonest all along. Apologize to anyone who may have been hurt, take corrective steps, and try to move on quickly.
It’s better to build a reputation as someone who’s a little too honest than as someone who isn’t quite honest enough. Honesty will allow you to build professional relationships that will last for years to come.
Warren Buffet said it best: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.