Why do people lie?

“It takes more work to tell a lie than it does to tell the truth. You have to not only make up something, but also watch me to make sure I’m believing you.”

~ Maureen O’Sullivan, Ph.D., professor of psychology, University of San Francisco

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed people gravitate towards what makes them feel good and move away from what makes them feel bad. Simple enough concept. It’s probably why people lie so much about themselves. In fact, it doesn’t really bother me any more. On the other hand, it really hurts when the person lying is close to me.

So why do people keep lying?

According to Del Paulhus, a professor at the University of British Columbia, people modify their behavior in two primary ways. First, people give honest but inflated self-descriptions reflecting a lack of insight and an unconscious bias toward favorable self-portrayal (self-deception). The second and more serious form is what Paulhus refers to as impression management. This term applies when people consciously use inflated self-descriptions, faking or lying.

I usually counteract deception by conducting behavioral interviews. I ask a candidate to recall a business situation that lasted more than a week and involved more than one other person. I give them time to think about the situation and then ask about the details (the who, what, where and how). This will take up the entire one-hour interview. There are no questions about past jobs, people we know in common, stories about their accomplishments and so forth — only the details of this one situation. You will find out really fast if the person is a fake. No one can keep that up for an hour. And even if they could, verification is so much easier. You know all the players and the entire story.

You can’t stop someone from lying to you, but you can stop them from putting your reputation on the line.

Try this strategy in your next interview or with someone close to you and let me know the results.