They Lie Because We Taught Them to Lie


When the truth is told and is not the desired answer, most people punish. So to avoid being punished for telling the truth, people lie instead.

I had a phone call from a salesman recently. It was like many calls we all get periodically. I listened briefly. I understood the salesman and was not interested at all. This is where many people lie and say something nice like, “Well, send me some information and we’ll think about it.” Such a tactic can be particularly common in the South, where many people believe it is better to gently lie to someone than risk hurting their feelings.

Instead, I politely told the truth. I was familiar with what he was offering because we looked into these services not long ago. We found that what he offered may be great for many businesses but it was not a good match or a practical business deal for our business.

Frustrated women on the phone

Then I got punished. He became pushy and wanted to question me about my understanding of the services. He started explaining even more details, cut me off and ignored my comments that would have been to his benefit. When this happens, I always understand why many people lie. It just saves them the hassle.

As he verbally accosted me, I remember wondering, “How often does insulting the intelligence or integrity of a potential client result in a good outcome?”

If I had said, “Sure, send me some information and we’ll consider it,” then hidden from all his future calls it would have saved me from his wrath. He likely would have even felt good about our call for awhile. But in the long run, such a disingenuous response would have wasted his time and my focus (because even dodging phone calls and ignoring emails takes at least a little time and energy).

In the end, I didn’t take his aggressive approach personally. After all, it is only personal if you decide to accept it as personal. I didn’t always respond this way but I’ve spent many such calls practicing my honest, thoughtful, and polite, “no.” It helps me to remember that if I am not going to be a customer, that my honest “no” helps salespeople move on to a client that might be happy to buy from them.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time, desire, or interest in working through the lies of others. I also have to accept that left to their own habits, many people will fudge their answer just because if feels better at the moment.

My approach is to encourage a healthy, honest “no” as much as any other answer. “I’d like to run my plan by you if you’ll promise to tell me if it does not work for you?”  Granting others sincere permission to tell me “no” relieves some of the pressure in a discussion or business presentation. And at the end of the day, I just want to get to the best answer for all of us and to do that in the most efficient manner possible.


Glenn S. PhillipsGlenn S. Phillips is the author of the book Nerd-to-English: Your Everyday Guide to Translating Your Business, Your Messages, and Yourself.  You can email Glenn directly at

Glenn is also the president of Forte’ Incorporated, a consulting firm that works with business leaders to understand and address the often hidden technology and business risks lurking within their organizations.

© Copyright 2012. Glenn S. Phillips, Forte’ Incorporated. (205) 985-1111



About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.