Dear Crucial Skills,
How do you deal with someone that you KNOW is lying to you? I have numerous examples and clear evidence of the lies, and I have confronted each lie, but they continue to do it. I don’t have the option of walking away. What next?
Dear Fibbed Out,
I’m going to assume your assertion is correct—that the pattern of lying is well established as a fact. As you say, what next?
In the third edition of Crucial Conversations, we suggest that there are three kinds of Crucial Conversations, and it’s important to hold the right conversation to address the issue. We refer to these three types of conversations with the acronym CPR—Content, Pattern, Relationship.
The first type of conversation is Content. The content is the immediate pain or problem. When you believe someone has lied, that’s the content. You should share your facts, share the conclusion, and seek remediation.
The second time it happens, you should move to the “P” in CPR. You must now address the Pattern. The issue is not just about the most recent lie they’ve told, it’s that this has now happened twice. It is becoming a pattern. This calls for a deeper discussion about what is going on and why. The solution you come up with must be a reasonable fix to the pattern, not just the latest fib.
For example, if the person acknowledges that they have lied on two occasions because they were scared to give you bad news publicly, you might agree to let them give you updates in one-on-one meetings rather in larger group discussions—provided this doesn’t compromise group integrity.
I’m going to assume you have already held conversations to address the content and pattern of lying. The focus for my advice to you will be on the “R” level—this is the Relationship conversation. This is the conversation you need to have when the issue is no longer about a couple of lies, but about deeply damaged trust. Your conclusions about the other person have reached a point where they will color every interaction you have with them.
This conversation is about resetting expectations in the relationship. Frequently, violated trust leads to termination of the relationship. For example, you might announce that you will leave their team, fire them, divorce them, or separate yourself in other ways.
In your case, you state, “I don’t have the option of walking away.” I would challenge that statement. You always have that option. But I will accept that you have weighed the pros and cons and have chosen not to walk away. I respect that.
But in making that decision, you must also accept that you have chosen to work with someone who occasionally lies. That is your choice. In making that decision, you have surrendered the right to complain or badmouth and punish the other person. You have no right to impose expectations of impeccable integrity on them when they have already shown you who they are.
This is an important psychological adjustment for you to make. The best way to tell if you have not made this mature decision is if new lies lead to feelings of blame, resentment, and disgust. Those are indications that you are refusing to accept your responsibility for being part of this relationship. When the new lies happen, remind yourself of your choice and of the advantages you prioritized that caused you to remain in your situation.
My final piece of advice is to set clear boundaries with the other person. This shouldn’t be hard if you’ve already had the content and pattern conversations. If they already know that you are convinced that they have been dishonest with you, the next step is to honestly tell them the measures you will be taking to cope with their dishonesty. For example, “Until I have greater confidence that you will be impeccably honest with me, I want you to know that I will be auditing your numbers and confirming your statements with colleagues.”
Be sure you aren’t doing this with a motive to punish or belittle. Reassure them that this is not the reality you want. Your motive is to simply be transparent so they can understand the natural consequences of their past choices and potentially feel motivated to make other choices in the future. For example, “I don’t want it to be this way. My preference is to take everything you say as fact. If you’re willing to work on restoring my trust, I will do my part to be open to new evidence as well.”
It is our universal lot in life to learn to work with imperfect people—people just like you and me. I hope my thoughts help you do so in a way that demonstrates your own integrity, and that invites others to grow with you.