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When an employee is caught in a lie

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

"Jane," Shelley asked her assistant, "did you order the binders we need for the proposals due Friday?"

"Of course I did," Jane replied. "You asked me that already."

"I know," Shelley said. "But I checked with Purchasing, and there's no record of an order. There are other orders, but not that one."

Jane paused. "OK, you're right. I forgot, but I knew you'd be mad. So I went to try to buy some at the store, but I couldn't find any. ... I'm in real trouble, aren't I?"

Shelley replied carefully. "Of course, it's not acceptable that you lied to me. But I wouldn't have been mad that you forgot. We could have made other arrangements. If I mistakenly gave you that impression, I apologize. But I must ask that you tell me the truth in the future, or else I will have to take disciplinary action."

Most people on the job tell the truth—but not everyone, not all the time. A single untruth needn't result in immediate dismissal, but a steady pattern of unreliable reporting or telling tall tales undoubtedly makes an employee a poor team member. 

For that reason, it's best to deal with such problems when they first appear. Here are some guidelines for handling situations where you suspect an employ­ee is lying:

Ascertain the facts. Do your own research to find out the hard facts. Sometimes, what at first appears to be a lie is really a matter of dispute between two employees' perceptions.

Confront the suspected liar in private. No matter how tempted you might be to pop off in a public place, hold your tongue until you can have a private meeting. Calmly describe the facts as you know them and the evidence—such as work sheets and other documentation—that supports your perceptions.

Note the response. Few people will continue lying once faced with cold, hard facts. If some­one does, it's a strong signal he's a problem employee. Continue docu­menting the person's behavior and your warnings about it, in support of further discipline or termination.

Get a full explanation. Once the person admits the lie, some kind of explanation may be offered. If not, you may have to ask ques­tions to uncover the motivation. Either way, try to understand what drove the person to lie in the first place. Perhaps you can make changes to eliminate the cause. In any event, your understanding of the reasons for lying will be invalu­able in guiding your response.

Prescribe a punishment and a remedy. If this is the first offense, you might want to do nothing more than give a verbal warning, and perhaps temporarily change the person's responsibilities or authority level. If lying is repetitive, however, give a written warning and be prepared to take additional disciplinary steps if necessary.

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