20 White Lies We Tell Our Coworkers Every Day
Too bad there's no "Lying" endorsement on LinkedIn!
No one wants to admit to lying at work—least of all not to your boss—but let's face it: white lies happen. They’re so common, in fact, that some researchers claim the majority of people lie up to three times every 10 minutes. Even if those lies are mostly harmless, fibbing on the regular might be setting you down a dangerous path. A study published in Nature Neuroscience showed that telling small lies makes it easier to tell big whoppers later on. That's because it desensitizes our amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates emotion. So, in other words, the more you lie (and get away with it), the more your brain realizes, "Hey, that didn't have disastrous consequences. Let's do it again!"
Here are 20 white lies you're likely to hear (some of which may have even slipped out of your mouth) in the typical office. Of course, not all of them are ill-advised—to borrow a line from the movie A Few Good Men, sometimes your colleagues “can't handle the truth." But some white lies, even if meant with good intentions, should be avoided at all costs.
“That was funny.”
It's not just about making a co-worker feel better about telling a really terrible joke. In some cases, not encouraging their sense of humor can be the kindest thing you can do for them—for instance, “if a person might get fired for telling such a joke,” says Marlene Chism, a consultant and author of Stop Workplace Drama. It’s not your responsibility to make sure they’re not sabotaging their own career by making jokes that could land them in hot water. But don’t give them a reason to believe that they’re the office Seinfeld.
“I love it!”
Whether directed at a supervisor or a coworker, this white lie can be a slippery slope. A little optimism is a good thing, especially if your job involves motivating others to do their best. But you don’t have to love everything, especially if you’re just “meh” about their idea. In other words, saying something a little less over-the-top and wildly effusive—like, say, “That sounds promising, but let’s see what you do with it”—will do your coworkers more good in the long run.
“Oh, yeah, that makes sense.”
This is usually shorthand for: “I’m not really listening, but I need to say something so it makes it seem like I just heard everything you said and I’m carefully considering it.” It’s a white lie that everyone can see coming from a mile away. It’s okay if you zoned out for a second and you lost track of the conversation. Asking someone to repeat themselves means that you actually care about what they’re telling you.
“That was my idea.”
Drop this one from your vocab, says April Masini, a relationship expert. “When you take credit for an idea that isn’t yours, you’re giving people the impression that you’re someone you’re not.”
The truth will eventually come out—trust us on this, it always does—and your credibility will take a hit that will be difficult to recover from. Be humble, give credit where credit is due, and work harder on coming up with your own great ideas.
“I’ve been swamped lately.”
It’s a classic white lie that’s almost exclusively used when somebody has missed or are pretty sure they’re going to miss a deadline. Nobody says “I’ve been swamped lately” before announcing “but I still found time to finish that project.” What you’re really saying is, you’re feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes admitting that you’re falling behind goes a lot farther than inventing a fictional avalanche of work responsibilities.
“Traffic was horrible.”
It’s embarrassing to be late to the office. And blaming it on rush-hour traffic is an easy lie to sell. Who hasn’t known the misery of sitting in your car on the highway and nobody is moving? This white lie is so easy to believe, it’s the most popular excuse for showing up late. According to the latest CareerBuilder survey, 51 percent of workers have used this line at least once.
“My kid is sick.”
What could go wrong with a harmless white lie like this? You get to skip out of work for a day or two and nobody is the wiser. Well, think again. According to recent polls, one-third of employers check up on their employees on social media. If you’re not really home with a sick kid and are, in fact, out enjoying a beautiful spring day, and then you’re foolish enough to post about it on Facebook, you’re not going to like the consequences.
“I can have it done by tomorrow.”
“Stop yourself before you say it,” advises Masini. “If you can’t have it done tomorrow, don’t create the pressure and anxiety for yourself by telling this lie.” Employees often repeat this lie because they’re eager to please, but it sets up false expectations for what you’re actually able to deliver. Better to give them a realistic timetable than disappoint them with promises that aren’t met.
“I thought I already sent that email out. I’m sure I did.”
It’s the “oh, the check is in the mail” of office white lies. But it often works anyway, because it’s so believable, says Masini. “So many of us actually do forget to send emails,” she says. If used in moderation, this white lie is fine, and might even buy you some extra time.
“I don’t do this job for the money.”
It's hard to tell what this white lie even means. Is this just a tactic to complain about your salary without actually saying as much? Or are you trying to prove that you care more than your co-workers? Whatever the rationale, it's only going to leave a bad taste in everybody’s mouth. Whether you're bragging about your tireless devotion to the job or not-so-subtly asking for a raise, nobody needs to hear it.
“I need it by yesterday.”
“If you’re slinging this lie to pull rank and feel important, check yourself,” says Masini. It's a white lie that's glaringly passive-aggressive. Whatever you expected your coworker or employee to finish clearly wasn't due yesterday—you're just trying to motivate them to stay on schedule. Masini recommends using a little more tact. Try a softer approach, like, “I'm worried about this being late. How soon can you get it to me?”
“This is my top priority.”
Some white lies exist for no other reason than to make somebody feel better. Telling a supervisor that a project is your “top priority” is kind of useless, other than making them feel momentarily reassured that the job is in good hands. But honestly, were you going to approach it with any less urgency if you didn’t label it a “top priority”? Of course not. It’s no different than telling your supervisor, “I’ve set this job at threat level orange!”
“I’m never on social media.”
This little white lie tends to get mentioned during job interviews, or if you're trying to look superior to coworkers who spend too much time on Twitter or Facebook. But unless there's at least some truth to it—if you average one tweet every six months, for instance—it's not a fabrication you'll get away with for long.
“It was almost done, and then my computer just died on me!”
“This lie is a version of my dog ate my homework,” says Masini. “If you didn’t finish something, just say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t get it done.’” Claiming you missed a deadline because of a technical glitch is also easy to disprove. It's only a matter of time before the IT guy shows up to check out this mysteriously crashing computer, and you're revealed as the employee who cried wolf.
“I’d love to hear about your fantasy football teams.”
There are two types of people in this world: those who are absolutely fascinated by fantasy football, and those who truly couldn't care less. If you fall into the latter category, it's perfectly acceptable to smile politely and listen to a co-worker prattle on and on about their fantasy teams. Just don't feign too much interest or you'll become their go-to office buddy for fantasy football chats. You want to appear tolerant of their fandom, but not hanging-on-their-every-word engrossed.
“I can’t come in today, I’m sick.”
We can't really point any fingers on this one. According to a CareerBuilder poll, 40 percent of workers had called in sick at least once every year even when they were perfectly healthy. And those are just the people admitting to doing it. So don't beat yourself up about this white lie—but maybe don't make it a habit.
“I don’t really care about politics.”
It's a white line we can all agree on. Even if you have political opinions that you're passionate about, the office is not the right setting for such debate. Plead ignorance—or at least indifference—to whatever is happening in Washington right now. “Did President Trump tweet something today? I hadn't noticed.” Stick to this line and you'll have a longer future at your company.
“I would love to hang out after work sometime.”
It might work the first time you say it or even the second time. But eventually, your co-worker is going to figure out that you have no intention of spending time with them outside the office. “It really just stirs their hope,” says Masini. “You don’t have to try to make someone feel good. You just have to be polite.”
“Have you lost weight?”
In general, it’s just a good idea to never comment on a coworker’s appearance, even if you’re trying to be complimentary. “It’s a hot button topic,” says Masini. According to one NPR poll, 49 percent of respondents found it inappropriate for men to comment on a woman's appearance at work, and 46 percent think a woman shouldn't comment on a man's appearance. Granted, that means a little over half of office workers think it’s no big deal, but is that really a game of Russian Roulette you want to play?
“I wish I could be at that meeting, but I’ve got a [doctor's appointment/kid's recital/funeral].”
We feel your pain. Most meetings really could just be an email, but you don't want to be the jerk who points it out. So this white lie is probably a victimless crime. Just make sure it's not something that could come back to haunt you. If a coworker thinks you attended a grandmother's funeral last week but then bumps into you having dinner with her at a restaurant, you're going to have some explaining to do. And for more common fibs that happen on the daily, here are the 20 White Lies We Tell Our Loved Ones Every Day.
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