Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how much simpler
life was when I was younger … when somebody lied you called them on it, maybe
with a rousing chorus of "Liar, Liar … Pants on Fire!" Nowadays, I
would venture a guess that the majority of us (i.e. Project Managers)
spend more time in the grey area than we do in the absolute white or black
areas of our business decisions … if we are really honest with ourselves.
For those of you who don't know, "the grey area" is a term
used as a border between two or more things that is unclearly defined, a
border that is hard to define or even impossible to define, or a definition
where the distinct border tends to move. There are several flavours of grey
A grey area of definitions signifies a problem of
sorting reality into clearly cut categories.
A grey area of law is an area where no clear legislation
or precedent exists, or where the law has not been applied in a long time
thus making it unclear if it is applicable at all.
A grey area of ethics signifies an ethical dilemma,
where the border between right and wrong is blurred.1
Most of us make dozens of decisions each day without even
giving them a second thought … and then there are the tough ones, those decisions
that make or break strategies, damage or enhance credibility, build or destroy
partnerships or just plain affect relationships (internal or external).
These are the decisions that cause sudden, discreet periods of intense anxiety,
mounting physiological arousal, fear and discomfort that are associated with
a variety of somatic and cognitive symptoms:
A sensation of adrenaline going through your entire body
Shortness of breath
Racing or pounding heartbeat or palpitations
Choking or smothering sensations
Tingling or numbness in the hands, face, feet or mouth
Feeling of claustrophobia
Feeling of physical weakness or limpness of the body
Loss of the ability to react logically to stimuli
Loss of cognitive ability in general
Racing thoughts (often based on fear; a repeated or
Loud internal dialogue
Feeling of impending doom
Feeling of "going crazy"
Feeling of extreme nervousness
Feeling out of control
Feeling of Threatening
Feeling of anti-social behaviour from other people
Feeling of excitement
Feeling of nagging from other people
Vision is somewhat impaired (eyes may feel like they
Terror, or a sense that something unimaginably horrible
is about to occur and one is powerless to prevent it
Fear that the panic is a symptom of a serious illness
Fear that the panic will not subside
Fear of losing control
Fear of death
Fear of living
Fear of going crazy
The apparent slowing down or speeding up of time
Dream-like sensation or perceptual distortion
Dissociation, or the perception that one is not connected
to the body or is disconnected from space and time
Feeling of loss of free will, as if acting entirely automatically
without control 2
Generally, these decisions involve the Schedule, Cost, Quality,
SOW (Statement of Work) or Customer Satisfaction of your project and
some questionable solution to a problem that has been festering for some
I would like to be able to get up on my soapbox and tell
all of you that I definitively tell the black & white truth on every decision
that I make, but that would be neither true nor realistic. I will tell you
that being a PMP, P.Mgr and F.CIM means that I have three different (but
similar) 'Codes of Ethics' that I consciously try to follow with all my business
decisions … but I would be lying if I said that none of my decisions were
infringing on a grey area at times. I don't have any definitive guidance
for you here … sorry …
However, I do have some thoughts that I would like to share
with you. First, we live in a society where we are conditioned not to hurt
peoples feelings or to try not to delivery bad news to anyone we have a relationship
with, business or otherwise. Don't believe me ? … OK … you asked for it …
here are some of the various types of lies that are typically told:
A bald-faced (or barefaced) lie is a lie told when it is obvious to
all concerned that it is a lie. For example, the child with chocolate all
over her face who denies having eaten the cake is committing a bald-faced
lie. The adjective "bald-faced" indicates that no attempt has been made to
hide the fact that it is a lie.
Lying by Omission
Lying by omission is when an important fact is omitted, deliberately leaving
another person with a misconception. This includes failures to correct pre-existing
A lie-to-children is an expression, or more specifically a euphemism, that
describes a lie told to make an adult subject, such as sex, acceptable to
children. The most common example is "The stork brought you." or hiding honesty
and truth i.e. I will tell you when you are a little bit older.
A white lie would cause no discord if it were uncovered and offers some benefit
to the liar or the hearer, or both. As a concept, it is largely defined by
local custom and cannot be clearly separated from regular lies with any authority.
As such the term may have differing meanings in different cultures. Lies
that are harmless but told for no reason are generally not called white lies.
Emergency lie is a different kind of white lie, which is employed when the
truth may not be told because, for example, harm to a third party would come
of it. An example of such an emergency lie would be a neighbour lying to
an enraged husband about the whereabouts of his unfaithful wife, because
said husband might reasonably be expected to inflict physical violence should
he encounter his wife in person.
Perjury is the act of lying or making verifiably false statements on a material
matter under oath or affirmation in a court of law or in any of various sworn
statements in writing. Perjury is a crime because the witness has sworn to
tell the truth and, for the credibility of the court, witness testimony must
be relied on as being truthful.
Bluffing is an act of deception that is not usually seen as immoral because
it takes place in the context of a game where this kind of deception is consented
to in advance by the players. For instance, a gambler who deceives other
players into thinking he has different cards than he really does, or an athlete
who indicates he will move left and then actually dodges right, are not considered
to be lying. In these situations, deception is accepted as a tactic and even
Misleading is when a person tells a statement that isn't an outright lie,
but still has the purpose of making someone believe in an untruth.
"Dissemble" is a polite term for lying (insincerity, disguise or conceal),
it can be considered as just misleading but is also used as a euphemism for
Careful speaking is distinct from Dissembling in that the speaker wishes
to avoid imparting certain information, or admitting certain facts, and additionally,
does not want to 'lie' when doing so. Careful speaking involves using carefully
phrased statements to give a 'half-answer': one that does not actually 'answer'
the question, but still provides an appropriate (and accurate) answer
based on that question. As with 'misleading', above, 'careful speaking' is
not outright lying.
Exaggeration is when the most fundamental aspect(s) of a statement is true,
but the degree to which it is true is not correct.
Jocose lies are lies that are meant in jest and are usually understood as
such by all present parties. Sarcasm can be one example of this. A more elaborate
example can be seen in storytelling traditions, which are present in some
places, where the humour comes from the storyteller's insistence that he
or she is telling the absolute truth despite all evidence to the contrary
(i.e. tall tale). There is debate about whether these are "real lies",
with different philosophers holding different views.
In order to lie, you have to say something that you believe
to be false. But lying is not simply saying what you believe to be false.
Philosophers have made several suggestions for what the additional condition
might be. For example, it has been suggested that the liar has to intend
to deceive (Augustine 395, Bok 1978, Mahon 2006), that she has to
believe that she will deceive (Chisholm and Feehan 1977), or that
she has to warrant the truth of what she says (Carson 2006).6
Augustine of Hippo divided lies into eight kinds, listed in
order of severity:
Lies in religious teaching.
Lies that harm others and help no one.
Lies that harm others and help someone.
Lies told for the pleasure of lying.
Lies told to "please others in smooth discourse."
Lies that harm no one and that help someone.
Lies that harm no one and that save someone's life.
Lies that harm no one and that save someone's "purity."
Augustine believed that "jocose lies" are not, in fact, lies.
Thomas Aquinas divided lies into three kinds; the useful, the humorous and the malicious. All are sinful according to Aquinas. Humorous and
useful lies, however, are venial sins. Malicious lies are mortal sins.
Mark Twain popularized a summary hierarchy of lies attributed
to Benjamin Disraeli; "There are three kinds of lies - lies, damn lies
and statistics." 3
Please understand, I am not trying to shame you into a complete
revamping of your decision-making process/style to make it more truthful
… all I want to do is help you better understand your options when 'forced'
to make tough decisions that can make or break strategies, damage or grow
credibility, build or destroy partnerships or just plain affect relationships
(internal or external).
There is an excellent article (which by the way is my personal
guide) by Laurie Weiss, PhD, which outlines the Top Ten Principles
for Telling the Truth in Business Relationships, where she explains that
telling the truth can be risky. It is often difficult to find a balance between
telling important truths and protecting the feelings and reputations of everyone
involved. Not only that, but honest, well-intentioned people don't always
agree about what is true. It may seem easier to keep the truth to yourself
than to cause a rift in an important relationship. Understanding and using
these principles will help you feel more confident about the choices you
make and help you develop the skills you need to tell the truth with grace
The Top Ten Principles for Telling the Truth in Business
Relationships are as follows:
Realize that your truth is not THE TRUTH, and neither
is anyone else's.
You are unique. There is no one else in the world who has had exactly the
same life experiences as you. Your past experiences have a profound influence
upon how you see and understand your world.
Since there is always more data coming at you than you or anyone else could
possibly process, your brain screens out everything that it believes is
irrelevant to you. Your brain makes those instantaneous decisions based
upon what it has previously learned is pleasant or painful. That means that
whatever you perceive (your truth) is only a part of what is present.
Anyone who has had a different life than you have had (including your
sisters, brothers, significant other, children, parents, co-workers, etc.)
chooses somewhat different things to screen out. Therefore, what they perceive
as true (their truth) is bound to be different than your truth.
Understanding this basic fact, shows how pointless it is to argue about
what is THE TRUTH. THE TRUTH simply does not exist.
Know what is true for you, including the signals that
you are unaware of some aspects of your own truth.
Since you are the only one who knows what you see, hear, feel, taste, or
smell, it is important to pay attention to that information. You may not
understand why something is attractive or repulsive to you, but knowing
that you have feelings about it is one way to help you make choices, including
the choice to learn more about why you feel the way you do.
When you were a child, others didn't necessarily appreciate or agree with
your expressions of what you liked or hated. In the course of becoming civilized,
you learned to stop paying attention to your own truths. You then learned
to pay attention to what others believed instead, and to invalidate things
about you that others did not like.
Many adults cover their own uncomfortable and invalidated truths by doing
things to keep their attention away from their own experiences. Mindlessly
watching TV, overeating, smoking, overworking, alcohol and drug abuse, are
all ways of tuning out this awareness. Make a habit of using your favourite
way of tuning out as a signal to check in with yourself and learn your own
Learn to tell the difference between your observations
-- what anyone else would also observe -- and your interpretations and assumptions
-- the meanings you put on what you observe.
You spend your early life learning that the things you see, hear, feel,
etc., mean something. You learn to interpret that a smile on someone's face
means that they are pleased with you, and a frown or sharp word means that
you have done something wrong.
You become so used to associating meaning to what you observe, that you
carry those connections into adulthood, never realizing that the same signals
may now mean different things. A smile now may be simply a social cover-up
to hide someone's true feelings, a frown may mean someone is concentrating,
and a sharp word may mean that someone is upset with something that has
no relationship to you.
A video camera might accurately record and validate what you observe, however,
you can only guess (or ask the other person) whether or not your
interpretations are correct.
Assume that, at any given moment, you and others are
doing the best you can to get what you need, given the knowledge and resources
available at that moment.
Only a few people learn to recognize what they want and gracefully and skillfully
communicate that information to others. The rest of us just bumble along
doing the best we can. Often our behaviour is unskillful, and we inadvertently
hurt others in our quest to take care of ourselves.
Of course, some people are belligerent, and seem to deliberately go out
of their way to hurt others. Looking more deeply, you may see how they,
too, do not know of any other options for themselves. You still need to
take appropriate precautions in your life. However, approaching situations
with this attitude will make it possible for you to examine many otherwise
hidden options for creating truthful relationships.
Decide what you hope to accomplish by telling the truth.
It helps to remember that your truth may not be the same as somebody else's
truth. Often the reason you want another to know your truth is because you
want them to behave differently. Sometimes you just want to be heard and
Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you design your communication
more skillfully, so that you are more likely to accomplish your goal.
Think about how what you say will impact the other
Often, truth telling is perceived as criticism. Before criticizing someone,
put yourself in their shoes by answering the following questions.
* Are they in any shape to hear this?
* Have they heard it before?
* Can they do anything about it?
* Am I committed enough that I would be willing to stay overtime to work
* Am I positive that this criticism is really about them and not about myself
-- something I don't want to take responsibility for?
* Is it possible that maybe what they really need is more validation?
(These questions are adapted from a lecture by Sid Simon, 1987).
Build rapport and trust. It doesn't do any good to tell
the truth to someone who isn't ready to hear it.
You can help someone get ready to hear what is true for you, if you first
take the time to learn what is true for them. One easy way to do this is
to listen carefully to what they say to you and check your understanding
by paraphrasing it back to them and asking if you have heard them correctly.
Many books and training programs provide instruction for this active listening
Don't always tell the truth; sometimes asking questions
to understand the other's truth is more valuable.
When you strongly disagree with another's position about something, sharing
your own opposite beliefs may lead to conflict and cut off further conversation.
To create a dialogue instead of an argument, try asking them to explain
their views in more detail.
Although you feel tempted to refute their position, keep listening and asking
questions until you feel you understand how they have arrived at their beliefs,
and why those beliefs are important to them. When you reach this point decide
whether or not it now seems useful or important to share your own truth.
Express your truth in a way that communicates that
the other person is valuable and important to you.
Most people want to know that you care, before they care what you know.
Listening is one way of showing that you care. Not interrupting is another.
Expressing your genuine appreciation for something that they have said or
done helps others know you care about them. So does remembering and referring
to personal information that they have previously shared with you.
Share your experiences -- what you see, hear, feel,
intuit -- before your conclusions and interpretations; invite others person
to do the same.
When sharing your experiences, first describe what you have noticed (seen,
heard, or felt). Then ask whether your interpretations and conclusions are
You might say "I noticed..., I believe it means that..., Am I right?"4
Good advise no matter what situation you find yourself in …
My second thought is that the more we, as Project Managers or employees,
are forced into the grey area, the more the fabric of Ethics is stretched
or damaged to almost the point of no return/repair. It is my opinion, and
only my opinion, that this has a lot to do with many of the workplace retention
issues that organizations are faced with today.
If we look at the Top Ten Reasons Why People Quit Their
Lack of Challenge
Lack of Empowerment
Limited Work-Life Options
Poor Company Culture
The Employee's Life Situation Has Changed
Questionable Promotional Practices
No Enjoyment 5
… virtually all of them can be linked to the organization
or the individual having some or all of their work practices planted firmly
in the grey area … or … to the organization and/or the individual just outright
misleading one another. If you are having a hard time believing this connection
all you have to do is to understand the Psychology of Lying and it
should all begin to make sense …
" The capacity to lie is noted early and nearly universally
in human development. Social psychology and developmental psychology are
concerned with the theory of mind, which people employ to simulate another's
reaction to their story and determine if a lie will be believable. The most
commonly cited milestone, what is known as Machiavellian Intelligence,
is at the age of about four and a half years, when children begin to be able
to lie convincingly. Before this, they seem simply unable to comprehend that
anyone doesn't see the same view of events that they do -- and seem to assume
that there is only one point of view: their own -- that must be integrated
into any given story.
Young children learn from experience that stating an untruth
can avoid punishment for misdeeds, before they develop the theory of mind
necessary to understand why it works. In this stage of development, children
will sometimes tell fantastic and unbelievable lies because they lack the
conceptual framework to judge whether a statement is believable or even to
understand the concept of believability. When children first learn how lying
works, they lack the moral understanding of when to refrain from doing it.
It takes years of watching people lie and the results of lies to develop
a proper understanding.
Propensity to lie varies greatly between children, some
doing so habitually and others being habitually honest. Habits in this regard
are likely to change into early adulthood."3
If you only take one thing away from this article, let it
be that "it is often difficult to find a balance between telling important
truths and protecting the feelings and reputations of everyone involved.
Not only that, but honest, well-intentioned people don't always agree about
what is true. It may seem easier to keep the truth to yourself than to cause
a rift in an important relationship."
So, with liars all around us (don't lie -- we ALL lie
at one point or another, even those "little white lies" count), it's
imperative to have a guide to help you with your Project Management endeavours
and to keep your ethical & moral compass pointing in the right direction
… hopefully this article will help.
I will leave you with two quotes that sum this article up
perfectly … "Bad news is not like good wine, it does not get better with
age" (a modified version of the Robert Dickinson Esq. Quote - "Bad
debts are not like good wine, they don't get better with age") and "None
of us could live with a habitual truth teller: but, thank Goodness, none
of us has to" (Mark Twain on the universal complicity with and desirability
of polite lies).
Good Luck … & Trust Your Instincts!
1. Grey Area: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_area
2. Panic Attack: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panic_attack
3. Lie: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lie
4. Top Ten Principles for telling the Truth: http://www.empowermentsystems.com/tp10trth.html
5. Top 10 Reason Why People Quit Their Jobs: http://top-10-reasons.blogspot.com/2006/11/top-ten-reasons-why-people-quit-their.html
6. What Is Lying?: http://dlist.sir.arizona.edu/2100/01/FallisAPALie.pdf