Reacting to Lying in Ways that Bring Connection
In my role as coach, mediator, trainer, I say upfront my clients that I don’t have the answers, don’t diagnose and won’t advise. I focus my work on helping others uncover their longings, help see what’s getting in the way (often deep-seated pattern of behavior), and set the stage for finding creative new strategies that fulfill longings. So it’s no surprise that this approach allows me to be open for personal growth and learning alongside my clients. It happened this past week . . . I got extra clarity within myself and learned a lot about the issue of lying – why we do it, and how we can react to a lie in ways that bring connection.
The universal need for trust
I was engaging in a role-play as someone’s mother, who suddenly had super compassionate listening skills. I invited my client to speak in an uncensored way – all was welcome, just let it all out. At some point, she shared about why she engaged in lying to “me” when she was younger. Alongside the role-play, my personal ears perked, because this is a sensitive subject for me . . . one I want to understand better and grow more compassion in the face of it. Since I was in this role-play position of objective, compassionate listener, it was suddenly so very clear:
Her act of lying was purely a tragic strategy for meeting needs . . . chosen due to NOT TRUSTING there was space for open honesty or for being heard, understood, accepted for who she is.
I have a negative reaction to being lied to. It’s not as if I never did or do it (radical honesty is after all a very rare thing). I just do not want to be lied to . . . no, I want nothing more than to be trusted that I can handle one’s honesty. AND I want nothing more than to trust the people in my life – that they share their truth with me, so that I can understand and truly get to know them.
All of this results in me getting quite upset when I suspect I’m being lied to. This experience with my client was the first learning, helping me to soften up with the realization of how deeply important and universal our need for TRUST is . . . on both sides of the equation.
There’s more to why we lie
One day later, I had a strong suspicion that someone important to me told me a lie. I stewed over it that entire evening, unsure what to do next. Then a rather odd thing happened . . . the next morning was a holiday and I was the first one up, eating breakfast alone. No morning paper, so I decided to peruse through the just-arrived National Geographic (June 2017). In it an article called, “Everyone Lies” screamed out to me. Of all coincidences! I poured over the contents and graphs, taking in still new learnings. Recent research claims that there are three primary reasons why humans lie (giving an estimated percentage for each one):
- Personal gain (44% – I see this as a variety of personal needs/longings, all universal)
- Self-protection (36% – this is a very basic human need)
- To influence others (11% for different reasons, including altruistic ones)
(The remaining 9% of lies derive from an unknown or not easy to define reason)
It also spells out that the art of lying is as great as our need to trust others . . . which is why it so often works as well as it does (that people believe the lie). The strategy of lying is another option and less tragic than choosing violence in order to meet needs. This was really connecting dots for me. My understanding and therefore compassion for the act of lying had grown to a great extent in the span of 48 hours. And there I was facing the very issue in real life . . . so what could I do with all my new learning?
Choosing consciously when reacting to a (potential) lie
As a result of all this new learning, I had more breathing room than usual. It was if I had more tools suddenly . . . to not ONLY react out of anger or fear about believing that I had been lied to. So while I was breathing and reflecting on my options, I remembered something I learned a few years ago . . . to not simply believe I know the full truth: “Perhaps there’s another explanation . . . why don’t you try hearing him out?” So when I next saw the person in my life, I checked my story with him – and asked him to tell me his version of the events. And indeed, he wasn’t consciously lying to me – it turned out to be a big misunderstanding. The value of checking my stories is a lesson I learn over and over. In this case, I’m happy I also learned more about this thing called lying, why we do it, and why I react the way I always have.
From now on, I’m going to try to hang on to this “breathing room,” and reflect on my choices. I know how quickly I can enter into a space of distrust and disconnection with someone important to me. When really, all I WANT is trust and connection. So the next time I suspect I’ve been lied to, I will:
- “Check my story” and attempt to get to shared reality by sharing the facts of what actually happened.
- Check if the other person experiences enough trust and emotional safety that I can hear his/her truth. (And what’s needed for that, e.g. confidentiality, non-judgment, no advice?)
- Guess underlying needs of the other person, e.g. self-protection or another need that wants to be met and lying was the only strategy available in that moment?
- Ask how I might help.