Honest, I'm no liar
Job-hunting game is rife with duplicity, but ‘best policy’ still pays
Have you ever lied on your résumé? Yeah, right, sure you haven't. How about fudging the truth a bit? Was that an affirmative you just mumbled?
Well, don't beat yourself up about it. According to Dan Ariely, a behavioural economist, popular psychologist, and the bestselling author of The Upside of Irrationality and Predictably Irrational, we - generally speaking - all lie sometimes. What is worse - and no big surprise to any Hongkonger - is that the job-hunting game provides fertile ground for duplicity on both sides.
In his latest book, The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty, Ariely examines the contradictory forces that both compel us to be dishonest and restrain us from lying. From smartphone use in school exams to political leaders who take liberties with the facts, cheating, lying and compromising the truth are apparently inescapable components of the human condition.
Drawing on his own empirical research, Ariely reveals, with remarkable candour, what knocks us off the true-and-straight road of honesty. The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty comprises 10 illuminating chapters on how unethical behaviour works in our professional, personal and political worlds, and the impact it has on us.
Some of the most engrossing parts of this book are those that reveal examples of Big Business' enabling of mendacity. There are lucid and well-signposted answers to questions such as why some people lie even when they don't need to, whether the odds of getting caught affect how likely we are to lie or cheat, and the role religious faith plays in keeping us honest.
One would assume that lying, like most other rational decisions, is based on a rational cost-benefit analysis. Ariely refutes this, and then demonstrates that it's actually irrational forces - those we don't take into account - that, more often than not, determine our ethical conduct.
In addition to addressing dishonesty in the workplace, Ariely looks at its impact on schools, relationships and society at large. The effectiveness of institutional and cultural safeguards against dishonesty are also explored.
The book presents Ariely's findings on why some things are easier to lie about than others, whether or not we're better off lying collaboratively, the "slippery slope" - the longer-term impact of an initial transgression - and the art of self-deception.
Lucy Windsor, a London-based life coach and HR consultant, concurs with Ariely's take on the unfortunate malleability of "the truth". She's worked with professionals on every rung of the corporate ladder and says that, although each experience is a venture into the unknown, there are patterns of behaviour that have become apparent to her over 15 years of working in the field.
One such pattern that manifests itself in several ways is the lie that stems from the thought: "If I am myself, I will be found lacking and I will fail." This element of self-doubt cannot be overestimated, Windsor says.
"People tend to put on a 'professional' mask, in the hope this will protect them from being vulnerable and give them credibility. This is particularly noticeable when individuals are under the pressure of a recruitment or development process, or other high-pressure tasks such as giving a presentation," she says.
However, all is not lost for us perennially fibbing mortals. Ariely also identifies what keeps us honest and lights up paths for us to attain higher ethical standards. By not bending the truth, these paths incur less risk than we might fear.
Honesty is the best policy, as the old adage goes, and Ariely writes persuasively on why this is so.
THE LIE OF THE LAND
Great historical minds on the importance of being truthful. Or not.
DAN ARIELY "It's important to realise that the effects of individual transgressions can go beyond a singular dishonest act. Passed from person to person, dishonesty has a slow, creeping, socially erosive effect."
PLATO "We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light."
MARK TWAIN "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE "I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you."
AL PACINO "I always tell the truth. Even when I lie."
SUSAN ELOISE "I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me."
CHERYL HUGHES "The truly scary thing about undiscovered lies is that they have a greater capacity to diminish us than exposed ones. They erode our strength, our self-esteem, our very foundation."