When Is It OK To Lie at Work?

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Barbara Walters writes in her just released memoir, “Audition,” that former co-worker, Star Jones, asked the women of The View (DIS) to lie about Jones’ gastric bypass surgery. Her coming clean resulted in some mudslinging with Jones.

The controversy began May 6, when Walters told Oprah Winfrey that “The View” cast knew the truth about Jones' lost weight, but stayed mum at Star's request. "She decided to have a gastric bypass operation, but then she decided not to tell anybody," Walters said on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” (DIS). "Then we had to lie on the set every day because she said it was portion control and Pilates. Well, we knew it wasn't portion control and Pilates."

Jones responded in Us Weekly. “It is a sad day when an icon like Barbara Walters, in the sunset of her life…is speaking negatively against me all for the sake of selling a book," Jones said. "It speaks to her true character.”

The Jones-Walter feud showcases a conundrum in office politics: Should you lie for your coworkers? Indeed, Jones put Walters and her other colleagues in a tough position when asking them to lie about her personal life. But there are ways to gracefully handle these situations.

When it comes to tactics in evasion, there is a difference between keeping silent and being deliberately misleading, says Tamar Frankel, author of Truth and Honesty: America’s Business Culture at a Crossroad and a professor at Boston University School of Law. Lying might even put you at risk legally if your deception is regarding company business.

Christine Hassler, a life coach and author of The 20something Manifesto agrees that you shouldn’t fall into “karmic debt” for your colleagues and always advocates against dishonesty including white lies and even being someone's alibi. “It gives you a reputation as someone who will be a liar,” says Hassler.

At the same time, refusing when you are asked to lie can be difficult. “The problem is, especially with young people, we all want desperately to be liked,” says Hassler. That difficulty is compounded when the person asking you to lie is a colleague or mentor who you’d like to make “allegiances” with to further your career.

So, then what? Getting up on your “moral high horse” and lecturing your colleague is the wrong move, she says. Instead, Hassler suggests that you “say ‘no’ and say, ‘Is there any way I can support you'" that does not involve deception? That way your colleague knows that you’d like to help them, but that you are maintaining your sense of ethics.

What if your colleague is asking you to lie about their personal life, which isn’t other people’s business, anyway, as was the case with Jones and Walters? Definitely sidestep the gossip. “A lot of people have trouble saying ‘That’s none of your business’ when they are pressed,” says Hassler. “By declining to answer a question, you’re not lying.” Frankel agrees: “You can always say ‘no comment’...then everyone can draw their own conclusion.”


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