Setting Healthy Boundaries

Healthy Workplace Month (Oct. 2010), Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 3-9, 2010)

Little White Lies or Big Problem:
When Bending the Truth is Okay and When it's Unethical

Do I look fat in this? Did you learn much from the meeting? White lies: we all tell them. If you say that you donít, then youíre almost certainly lying. We bend the truth fairly often to smooth things over, avoid bigger explanations we donít want to get into, spare someoneís feelings or to steer clear of confrontation. Although thereís a lot of debate on this topic, itís usually accepted that embellishing the truth is ok when it isnít told out of malice and canít really do any harm. Arenít there times you would rather hear a white lie than the ugly truth?

Honesty Isnít Always the Best Policy

Sometimes there is no real benefit to telling the truth if the information is unnecessary, potentially hurtful, or irrelevant. Itís generally okay to hide the harsh facts to:

Spare feelings. The best kind of white lie focuses on the positive and ignores the negative. If your spouse spends hours preparing an anniversary dinner thatís hard to swallow, spare him or her. Sometimes the brutal truth is just better left unsaid.

End or avoid an argument. If youíre in a heated discussion about politics or sports with people whose opinions are way out in left field, telling a white lie can help you keep the peace and move on. Instead of getting worked up and trying to prove your point, you can choose to say that they have some valid ideas and thank them for sharing before quickly changing the subject.

Be supportive. There will be times when friends or colleagues ask for your opinion on something they created, accomplished or are proud of. Even if you donít agree, itís not worth your relationship to share this. If itís clear their ďtalentĒ isnít going to take them anywhere, itís not likely they will peruse things very far. You just donít want to be the reason they gave up.

Preserve your privacy. If youíve been dealing with something personal like a health problem, an affair or a mental illness you donít need to divulge all these details. Anything to do with your health or personal life is strictly your business and thereís nothing unethical about leaving this out of the conversation.

Protect your kids. Every parent has told a lie to their children to get from point A to B a little more smoothly. Maybe youíve told them that the restaurant is out of chicken fingers to encourage healthy choices or that the toy store is closed on Tuesdays. Just be careful not to overdo it or try this approach with older children as you may start to send the wrong message.

Unethical Embellishments

Whether itís inflating your salary or ďminimizingĒ your age, most of us are guilty of the odd embellishment. But when does our tendency to tell tales start to go wrong? The major difference between a white lie and an unethical lie is the intent behind it. A white lie is typically told to protect others, while a flat out lie protects you in some way or strives to make you a better, richer or more experienced person than you really are. Youíre probably stepping over the line if you:

Extend lengths of employment, create job titles or lie about incomplete education on a resume. Not only are you likely to get caught out during a reference check, but youíre definitely not doing yourself any favors down the line if you do get the job and have to contend with your own inexperience.

Manufacture elaborate excuses for tardiness. Rather than saying ďI didnít RSVP because I never received your invitation,Ē or ďsorry Iím late, there was a huge accident on the highway,Ē try a simple apology. Lying to save face can make you feel like you have permission to be irresponsible which may start to affect your relationships.

Use ďthe dog ate itĒ as a reason for not getting the job done. Okay, so most of us wouldnít actually use this but blaming an unfinished job on a fictional computer crash, power outage or some other made up excuse not only steps over the line, but actually may only serve to mask a deeper issue (i.e., unrealistic work expectations, turnaround times or a personal crisis) that could be solved if it were openly and honestly addressed.

Keep a tally of all the times you stretch the truth in a weekófrom praising a friend for their hideous outfit to telling your boss his boring presentation was riveting. This will help you distinguish between where being truthful matters and where it doesnít. Be aware that the whitest of lies can take on lives of their own as people ask you to validate something theyíve heard. If you find yourself lying to make yourself look better, cover up a mistake or hurt other people, your lies have marched over that imaginary line and into dangerous territory.

The information and resources provided above are meant for informational purposes only.
If you feel you are experiencing a crisis, please contact a qualified professional immediately.

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