The High Cost of Lies at Work and What Leaders Can Do About It


Lies in the workplace are expensive. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, a typical organization loses 5 percent of its revenue to fraud – a potential global loss of $3.5 trillion dollars.

But the cost of out-and-out fraud pales in comparison to the monumental cost of the erosion of trust that occurs when workplace deception is condoned, tolerated or ignored. This loss of trust is expensive and damaging for any organization, but it is especially devastating for organizations trying to transition from hierarchy to collaboration.

Here’s why:

The key to making that cultural transition is knowledge sharing — and the foundation for knowledge sharing is trust.

Trust is the belief or confidence that one party has in the reliability and integrity of another; the confidence that one’s faith in the other will be honored in return. Dishonesty destroys trust. Once you discover you’ve been lied to, trust simply vanishes – more often than not forever. And with it goes the very cornerstone of collaboration.

In The Truth About Lies in the Workplace, I offer an organizational strategy for reducing lies and increasing candor at work. It begins with you — the leader — asking yourself a series of questions. Here are four of them:

1) What do you expect of the people who report to you?

Pygmalion in the Classroom, one of the most controversial publications in the history of educational research, shows how a teacher’s expectations can motivate student achievement. This classic study gave prospective teachers a list of students who had been identified as “high-achievers.” The teachers were told to expect remarkable results from these students, and at the end of the year, the students did indeed make sharp increases on their test scores.

In reality, these children were not high-achievers, but had been chosen at random from the entire pool of pupils. It was the teachers’ belief in their potential that was responsible for their exceptional results; a belief that was communicated not directly (the students were never told they were high-achievers), but subliminally through positive behaviors such as facial expressions, gestures, touch and spatial relationships.

In much the same way, a leader’s expectations of employees’ potential can also play a key role in determining how well they perform at work.

So, again, the first question to ask yourself is: What do you expect of your team, staff, workforce? If you expect people to communicate with honesty, integrity and truthfulness – you’ve automatically increased the odds that they will do just that.

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Carol Kinsey Goman

Carol Kinsey Goman

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., president of Kinsey Consulting Services, is a keynote speaker, executive coach, and leadership consultant. Clients include 105 organizations in 24 countries. Carol is a leadership contributor for Forbes and the Washington Post. She has authored eleven books. Her latest book is The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help or Hurt How You Lead. A leading authority on leadership, change-management, collaboration, and body language in the workplace, Carol has been cited in media such as The Wall Street Journal, Industry Week, Investor's Business Daily, CNN's Business Unusual, SmartBrief on Leadership, Executive Excellence,, NPR's Marketplace, Fox News, and the NBC Nightly News. Carol has served as adjunct faculty at John F. Kennedy University in the International MBA program, at U.C. Berkeley in the Executive Education Department, for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States at their Institutes for Organization Management and is a current faculty member with the Institute for Management Studies.

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