Truth, lies, and unicorns revisited: why all business advisors lie

Andrea Howe
Category : Trusted advisorship November 15, 2007

Continuing our conversation on the pervasiveness of lying in professional services (click here to read our first blog posting on the topic), today’s blog explores why business advisors, when weighing the two options of telling the truth and telling a lie, often choose to lie. Yes, that’s correct, we lie even in cases where an objective analysis would suggest that truth-telling would benefit us more.

If you think this article doesn’t apply to you, think again. Business advisors who don’t ever create a false or misleading impression – in other words, lie — are like unicorns: not inconceivable, but pretty unlikely.

Here’s how we get trapped in our own misguided logic.

On the Truth side:

– We underestimate the value of truth-telling. When we are forthright and willing to face facts, clients often perceive us as virtuous.

– We overestimate the cost of disapproval for telling the truth. Clients who face an uncomfortable reality usually see it as something to be dealt with and to move beyond.

On the Lie side:

– We underestimate the cost of disapproval if the truth is revealed. We rationalize that we aren’t really lying (we are being optimistic, maintaining a “can do” attitude). Except we are lying by avoiding or omitting the truth, and getting caught affects our reputation for the long term.

– We overestimate the probability of getting away with lying. We convince ourselves that somehow we’ll be saved from ever having to face the truth. How many times did you think you were fooling your parents as a child only to find out they knew what you were up to all along?

In short, lying seems to make sense in a psychological way and therefore masquerades as the rational choice. But even when analyzed from a purely self-serving perspective, truth-telling is under-rated.

Next up: how to come clean in a way that builds trust instead of breaking it.

Originally published by BossaNova Consulting Group, Inc.
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Andrea Howe

Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).

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