Loyalty. It’s a big thing in politics — including company politics. So when your boss asks you to lie, what should you do? What can you do?
If you refuse, you’re basically saying that you don’t support your boss. If you agree to lie, well … you may wind up being blamed if things go wrong. Or, you just might feel trapped by a position you don’t support.
Reasons a boss asks you to lie
If your boss asks you to lie, there must be a good reason. So what are some benefits that your words of support can provide them with?
- Help in getting an idea or project accepted.
- Cover story for some mistake they already made.
- Plain old ego boosting.
- Help covering up poor business productivity results.
- Added strength pushing past external or internal rivals or competitors.
- Help in perpetrating fraudulent behavior of some kind.
- A chance for your boss to improve their public image.
But whatever it is, odds are your best interests are most likely not your boss’s first priority. Although, I guess there could be a situation where they are asking you to lie to help them protect you. Maybe.
What are the risks to you?
When a boss asks you to do something, it’s not easy to say “no”. Even if you feel uncomfortable about what they want from you. But there are some potential downsides, no matter how convincing a case your boss makes. Good at least to have your eyes wide open::
- You’ll get caught. Often people in power can escape the blame, especially if they have a scapegoat — in this case you.
- Others will know what you did, and it may come back to bite you later. Even in another job someday.
- Lie once for your boss, and they may expect it again and again.
- If you have a conscience, you’ll carry this lie around with you. And it might affect your health. Or just how you feel about yourself.
- You may simply be seen as someone easy to manipulate or untrustworthy.
- And even worse, your boss could be setting you up to take the fall just in case things go wrong.
Weighing benefits vs risks when boss wants you to lie
The obvious benefit is that your boss will see you as an ally. Someone they can count on and trust. Now whether that actually benefits you within the company is not quite as obvious.
If this winds up affecting your reputation — truths can surface at any time — you may lose any temporary advantage you had. And you never know when your own boss may turn on you, if it is to their benefit.
Then again, you may wind up gaining power and prestige as a result of your newfound alliance with your boss. It’s up to you to decide if you can live with yourself this way. Everything we do shapes who we are.
But, of course, if you do decide to say “no” you risk making an enemy of your boss. And you risk possibly being set on a path where you are soon pushed out of the company as “not a team player”.
So what can you do?
Being asked to lie for anyone is uncomfortable. But when a boss asks you to lie and that is not something you feel good about, the stress may become too much to handle as time goes on.
So if you feel strongly about the truth and would find being put in this position unbearable, then you probably have to say “no”. As politely and non-judgmentally as possible. And you’ll have to accept the consequences at work. That also probably means getting your resume updated, just in case.
Explaining to your boss that you want to support them in any other way, but you just prefer not to do this might help. And if you can think of another way to help your boss accomplish what they want, even better. Tell them that too.
And what if you’re ok with the lie?
Well, if you are ok with the lie, and have thought it through carefully, then we all have to make our own choices in life. Only you can weigh the pros and cons in any particular situation. And only you know what you can or can’t live with.
Just remember, odds are your boss won’t cover for you if things do go wrong. And they may even lie and put all the blame on you. Anyone who asks you to lie will have no trouble lying to protect themself.
EXTRA: Quick personal story
I once worked for a New York City agency and was asked to “reframe” (lie about) some data we collected that didn’t quite support the Deputy Commissioner’s plan. I couldn’t live with getting up in front of people and lying for her. And so I said “no”. She was not happy.
While I tried to offer alternatives and find other ways to help her plan, in the end my decision not to lie resulted in my losing ground with upper management. Up to that point, I had been seen as a rising star … and the shine quickly dulled.
I never regretted my choice. I knew if I said “yes” I’d always carry the feeling I let myself be coerced by the need to curry favor. And I wasn’t helping the people we were supposed to be helping.
But I also knew that if I wanted to move forward, eventually I’d need to find a new job. And so I did.
Some posts to help
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