This is not a light–hearted post, but one that may strike a chord. Many of us in life have made careless or incredibly stupid mistakes that we sometimes initially lie about. Why? Because we’re really embarrassed, because we think it’s a small enough lie that it won’t be found out, or one of several other reasons. That leads into two points about lying in a case like this. First, if caught in a lie of this nature, there is usually a time period when you can ‘fess up’ and work through it. Second, trying to cover up the first lie is what frequently sets unpleasant happenings into motion. The saying, “What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive,” is as true today as when it was penned.
The thing about mistakes though is that sometimes, particularly if the person you have lied to doesn’t like you/trust you, a genuine mistake can be perceived as a lie. For example, you have a project at work and you are about to miss a critical deadline. Let’s say a few things have gone wrong and you’re trying to adjust the timeline to minimize missing the deadline. Let’s also say though that back when the project was being planned, someone warned you that this could occur and you weren’t really paying attention or you literally put the warning out of your mind. Another individual (or that same one) brings the discussion up and you defensively deny it. That is actually a mistake because you genuinely didn’t remember, but when an email or other “trail” is produced, your denial of knowing about the warning can be viewed as a lie. Even if you convince most people that it was a mistake, others may choose to continue to think of it as a lie. There is little you can do to change their minds. A genuinely humble meeting to clear the air might work, or it might not.
What you do at that stage will also depend on who the individual is (or individuals are). If your very credibility is damaged with people that matter to your continued employment/relationship, it may be time to move on and accept it as an unfortunate episode that you hopefully learn from. If they are not of particular importance, then you may still be able to take a lesson of value from the incident. The flip side of the coin is if you are faced with trying to determine if a person made a mistake or is lying to you. It is rarely a comfortable thing and if you decide it was a mistake, it may still impact your relationship with the individual. That goes back to an earlier post about why genuine apologies are so important; that is usually the best way to heal a breach of credibility.
The sad truth though is that people we trust are capable of lying and betrayal. That will be the subject of the next post.