Uh-oh. You caught an employee in a bold-faced lie, and now you’re not sure what to do next. A single lie has the power to destroy your trust in the employee, but what is more concerning is why the person told the lie in the first place.
Is he hiding something? Does she fear your response? And if the person lied so easily this go round, does it mean he or she has lied before? How often?
It’s important to get to root of the issue, and address it immediately. Follow these tips to do so:
Keep your cool
OK, it stinks being lied to, especially when you have showed the other person nothing but respect. However, going into the conversation all hot under the collar will only make the situation worse. Before you talk to the employee, take a few minutes to compose yourself.
Really consider whether it is worth addressing at all. For example, it’s probably not worth embarrassing people, and potentially destroying a relationship, over a little white lie they told about their personal life to make themselves look better. On the other hand, a lie that could have a negative impact on the team or the bottom line, and especially illegal or policy-breaking behavior, should be addressed immediately.
Consider why the person lied in the first place
Was the person covering up a mistake or preventing some kind of punishment? Was he or she trying to get in your good graces or receive some perk? People lie typically for two reasons: to prevent pain or gain something that they couldn’t by telling the truth. Sometimes they fib to protect the person they are lying to, for example, they want to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.
This part can be a little uncomfortable, but be really honest with yourself. The last time someone messed up, how did you react? Did you become angry? The last time you heard criticism, how did you respond? Did you get defensive or even upset? Do you expect employees to jump through hoops and do the near-impossible before you reward or praise them?
If the person lied to you, it could very well be because they are worried about how you will react, and you may need to make some changes in how you lead.
Don’t accuse the employee of anything
When you speak with the employee, your top priority is to get all the facts and hear his or her side of the story. You could be wrong, and you may not have all the details, so ask the person for a full explanation. Be sure to ask plenty of open-ended questions to ensure you have all the information required to take the next step.
This is especially important if you caught the employee in a lie before. It’s all too easy to jump to the conclusion that the employee is lying again. But remember, people can learn from their mistakes and change, so treat every situation as brand new, and focus on discovering exactly what happened and why.
If you discover that they did indeed intentionally lie, discuss the outcome of the lie and why it is unacceptable on your team. Then explain in no uncertain terms that it better not happen again.
Give them the benefit of the doubt
If this is a first occurrence and it isn’t that serious, let the whole thing go. Trust that they just made a mistake. It can be hard to trust people once they lie to you, but you need to forgive the behavior and move on. You’ve addressed the behavior and set expectations, and that should be enough.
If, however, the behavior continues or escalates, be prepared to take some serious action, including termination.