April 9, 2014 at 11:17 AM ET
Your mother may have told you, “Honesty is the best policy.” But are there certain situations where it’s OK to lie? What if it’s to avoid hurting someone or to help you succeed at work?
“The truth about lying is that it's not all bad as long as no one's getting hurt,” says psychiatrist Dr. Ish Major. “If you're using it to get ahead or spare someone's feelings, then it's generally considered socially acceptable.”
He even says that lying can be a good indicator of how well you may do later in life. The younger you are when you’re able to lie, the more likely you are to have a higher level of intelligence. So it's good to be able to lie early, but not necessarily often, he says.
Studies show that people will lie at least once during any given 10-minute conversation. On average, men tend to lie twice as much as women (telling four to six lies per day while women tell about two to three).
Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief of MORE magazine, says that women often need to learn to spin a story in order to get work done efficiently, which doesn’t need to be perceived as being dishonest.
“I think there is a difference between lying in business in order to smooth things over between competitive clients or to make co-workers get along, and doing things that are dishonest like stealing or ripping the consumer off,” she says.
Though lying may be stressful for some, people who admit to telling lies at work have been found to be routinely less stressed than their colleagues who don't, says Dr. Major.
“If you think of being able to tell a good lie as like having a super power, and you only ever use it for good, never for evil, then you'll be able to feel much better about it if and when you ever do.”
He points out three types of common lies in the workplace:
1. Lies to cover your back
These typically consist of excuses, defensive lies or shifting blame to explain absences, being late and projects not getting done on time or at all.
2. Lies to avoid conflict
Generally used as a way to protect someone’s feelings, these involve shielding an uncomfortable truth or giving false compliments, such as about a person’s appearance or performance.
3. Lies to gain status
These are more blatant and untrue than the others. They usually involve exaggerations of accomplishments, destructive lies, omissions, gossip and intentionally misleading others. For example, you may claim an idea as your own, give earlier due dates for projects to ensure they are completed on time and tell a job you are leaving for “personal reasons.”