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10 Times It's OK to Lie to Your Boss

Honesty is the best policy, right? Wrong! There are times where you owe it yourself (and even to your firm) to lie to the boss.

This post contains ten real-life situations where deception is the better part of honor.

CLICK for the first OK lie


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#1: When Lying is Integral to Your Job
Some jobs, by definition, involve lying to the public. If that's the case with yours, you'd best be consistent in private, too.

For example, suppose you're the PR flack for a mining company or a tobacco firm. You're out there day after day trying to befuddle hapless consumers. If you get all cynical when talking to your boss, you're just going to seem like even more of a toad.

Similarly, if you're a stock analyst inside in a bank that's backing an IPO, it's your job to talk up the IPO to investors, regardless of whether you actually think it's any good. Telling the truth to your boss is just plain stupid, because 1) your boss probably already knows the IPO is a piece of crap, and 2) you could create an audit trail proving that you knew you were selling a piece of crap.

In short, it's better to keep your story straight, than try to keep it selectively real. If you've made a deal with the devil, it's just plain stupid not to be consistently satanic.

#2: When Protecting Co-workers
If you've got some personal dirt on your co-workers, you owe it to them to keep it quiet, even if the boss asks.

This isn't to say that you should be covering up crime. But if, for instance, you're aware that Joe called in sick because he partied too hearty last night, it's not your job to be the office tattletale.

The same thing goes for various screw-ups that might occur, but which are outside of your realm of responsibility. You may know exactly who's really responsible for screwing up some project, but that doesn't mean that it's your job to fill the boss in.

In business, you're well advised to mind your own. And if it's not your own business, leave it to somebody else to dish the dirt. Just say "I have no idea." Even if you do.


#3: When You're Job Hunting
You have a right to look for another job... without suffering the consequences.

If it gets out that you're looking afield, you might be penalized with a loss of status or power. You even might get fired before you find the job you want, if your boss figures that you're planning on leaving anyway.

So feel free to tell any lies that you need to tell in order to keep your job-search secret.

Note: Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) believes that, in some cases, it's ethical to develop your own business using company resources. If you're interested in his views, here's the interview.

#4: When a Lie Makes the Boss More Effective
News flash: your boss is a human being and subject to human emotions.

If your boss is about to make a big presentation or cut an important deal for the team, that is NOT the time to reveal unpleasant truths that might distract him.

For example, suppose your boss is about to go in front of the budget committee with a request for next year's funding. His presentation, which took three weeks to create, paints a rosy picture of present success and future potential.

On the day of the meeting, you find out that a big contract just fell through. If you inform your boss, he'll flip out, and probably screw up his presentation. So if he asks, right before the meeting "Hey, how is that huge ACME deal going?", you'll be doing him (and everyone else) a huge favor if you just say that you have no idea but will check on it later.

#5: When Bosses Ask About Their Appearance
Bosses, like anybody else, can be vain or insecure about their appearance and it's natural for them to ask for advice or reassurance.

However, even though you may be a fashion-plate yourself, it's best to keep your opinions and improvements strictly to yourself.

Let me give you an example. I once had a boss who had a comb-over that went from the top of one ear to the top of the other. Whenever he was outside, it would flap in the breeze like the wing of a crippled pigeon.

Before every meeting this guy asked: "How do I look?" Needless to say, I could have told him that his comb-over made him look like an idiot. But that would have been telling him (truthfully) that he'd been looking like an idiot for the past ten years.

So I kept my mouth shut.

Go ye forth and lie likewise.

#6: When Bosses Tell Lame Jokes
An unwritten perk of being a boss is that underlings have to laugh at your jokes.

Even if you're hearing that joke for the tenth time, and it wasn't funny the first time, you need to emit at least some kind of chuckle.

Yeah, it's a bit degrading, but think of it this way: at least your boss is trying to be entertaining. The way I see it, any attempt on the part of the boss to act like a human being should probably be encouraged.

And what's it really costing you? It ain't gonna break your face

One word of warning, though: don't overdo it or you'll sound sarcastic. Leave the ROFLMAO for your text messages, ok?

#7: When Boss Stupidity Creates More Work
Sometimes bosses just plain get in the way. When that happens, it's your job to keep them out the way, even if it means a little lying.

For example, suppose you're in Sales, and you've got a sales manager who was a top performer back in the dinosaur era. He keeps insisting upon going on your sales calls and trying to close the deal... which simply irritates the customers. In this case, it's perfectly OK to lie about your schedule in order to keep your boss from getting underfoot.

Similarly, suppose you're in an engineering group, and your boss keeps surfacing new features which would require you to work 100 work weeks to implement. If your boss is the type who's unwilling to budge on deadlines, you are 100% justified in simply saying that the new features are "impossible" to implement.

Here's the deal: Yeah, you work for your boss, but you do not owe it your boss to make it easier for him to make your job pointlessly more laborious.

#8: When Bosses Lie To You First
There is an implicit contract between human beings: you don't lie to me and I'll won't lie to you.

In business, though, that implicit contract is often seen as a one-way street. The employee is told to always tell the truth, while the boss is mandated to lie with impunity when it's in the firm's interest.

When bosses tell self-serving lies about salaries, raises, layoffs, work hours, etc. they have set themselves outside of the pale of ethical human behavior. As such, they no longer have any right to ask for honesty from you.

Of course, you may choose to tell the truth, if you wish, but you are no longer obligated to do so.


#9: When There's a Penalty for Truth-telling
If your boss consistently shoots messengers, you have no obligation to be the messenger who gets shot.


For example, when I worked at a DEC in the early 1990s, the easiest way to get a dead-end assignment was to point out to top management the obvious truth that PCs were replacing minicomputers. I learned the hard way that telling that particularly truth in that particular company, was stupid. It wasn't going to change anything.

Think of it this way: when bosses can't handle the truth and, indeed, don't really want to hear it, you're not doing them any favors by throwing the truth in their faces.

They'll figure it out sooner or later... probably after you're long gone.

#10: When It's None of Their Damn Business
Some bosses are nosy-parkers, and some companies don't respect privacy. I say: screw 'em.


If your boss decides to quiz you on your religion, your politics, your personal life, your sexual orientation, your eating habits, what you smoke, or anything else that doesn't directly affect your work performance, you have no obligation to answer truthfully.

Here's the deal: decades of corporate control of government have ensured that employees lack basic privacy protections. For all intents and purposes, companies are now allowed to monitor anything and everything. Heck, they can even demand blood tests -- meaning that they're allowed to sequester an actual part of your physical body.

Given the apparent inability of elected officials to give employees even basic protection from corporate snooping, you have every right to keep anything and everything about your personal life secret from your boss. Even if it means lying.

IMPORTANT: Enjoy this post? Then you'll probably enjoy my new book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.
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