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How to respond to deceit/lying in a professional setting?
March 9, 2010 3:44 PM   Subscribe

How to respond to deceit/lying in a professional setting? - Professionals lying in order to save face after unprofessional behavior.

After moving to NYC from Scandinavia, my (American) wife and I have repeatedly faced situations in which clever, well-educated, and succesful people try to make me (or her) responsible for their own mistakes by lying or being deceitful. Most of the time, people either forget to do something they promised, they think they are too busy/important to listen to me (her) and thus misinterpret something, or are simply lazy. One example of many:

Job application:

An HR-person has suggested a date for my job interview. I reply and ask for a more precise time and location. She never gets back to me. The date of the scheduled interview comes, and I assume she has blown me off and does not want me to show up at all. She then emails me, asking why I did not show up. I respond kindly that she has not confirmed with me, and I do not even know the address, precise time, location or anything.

She claims to have sent a confirmation email with details, and states that it must have ended up in my junk mail. I have added her to my preferred sender list, and my junk mail is empty. It does not auto-delete. So, I know she is lying.

We have been thinking how to respond to these incidents. We talked about this issue, and realized that

a) accepting this kind of behavior by personally accepting blame and (saying that I missed the email, when I did not) is degrading and mentally unhealthy in the long run. If I do this, I essentially let people treat me as their personal dumping ground. Still, this is an easy way out, but may also cause professional problems later on.

b) stating explicitly that I have taken care of my part flawlessly, and that the person in question is lying, always makes people furious. They really get mad, and many times start yelling and freaking out. Still, it is personally tempting, as it is inherently wrong to even implicitly blame other people for your own mistakes. Further, confronting the liar openly is psychologically sound, as it is likely to lessen lying and I don’t let him/her to push me. However, it can really burn bridges.

c) There is a middle ground by responding that my email works fine (she is white listed, and my junk mail is empty). Then, the problem must be in her email system. This is a softer approach to confront the liar. Still, we both felt a little bit shitty afterwords, as this approach is essentially playing the liar’s game, and the liars have a tendency to be crabby about this response.

* * *

Q1: What kind of strategies do you use to mitigate these kinds of issues in your everyday life?

Q2: What is the socially ”correct way” (according to good manners) to behave in this situation? Especially if it is a job/professionally related situation.

Q3: What is the logic of the liar? From our standpoint, it is more respectable to admit one’s mistake, as it is simply human and everybody makes mistakes, than lose trust and seem like a total jerk by lying and getting caught immediately. For example, how come a Harvard etc. grad (or someone with extremely high qualifications in their field) can be so naive that he/she believes he/she can get away with that?

Q4: Other thoughts? Do we just have to learn to suck it up? Or, how do we get past other people trying to dump the responsibility of the mess they have created/their own faults or lack of organization into our laps?

We saw this already.

Thanks.

DB
posted by Doggiebreath to Human Relations (35 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
You cannot go through life treating everyone as though they're lying to you. I mean, you can, but you're not going to get very far. My philosophy is to try to move beyond what happened to what needs to happen next. So, you missed the interview, and there are numerous explanations as to why- no need to start a fight about it*. I would just say, I'm sorry that this one didn't work out, I had really hoped to go out for this job, please keep me in mind for future interviews.

*Particularly since there's always a chance you're wrong. I had the same thing happen to me- details of an interview lost in the great wide web. I told the recruiter it must be her e-mail provider, since it couldn't be mine. I found her e-mail to me a few weeks later hidden away in a digital corner. Opps.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:49 PM on March 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


What do you hope to achieve by "winning" against this person who is lying? You do not even work with her, and putting her in her place will go further to ensure that you never do. So again, why do you care to score some points against some inept or lying stranger whom you'll probably never deal with again?

I find it interesting that you do not even consider the fact that MAYBE her email program did screw up and not send the email to you. You've convinced yourself that this woman is a LIAR on scant evidence. I hope you're never on a jury.

Maybe it's time to tend to your own garden, and not worry too much about the motivations of strangers.
posted by meadowlark lime at 3:49 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Liar? I think what you have is a misunderstanding. It is my lifelong goal to avoid misunderstandings.
posted by fixedgear at 3:54 PM on March 9, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'd try to assume it's incompetence, rather than malice.
posted by Carol Anne at 3:55 PM on March 9, 2010 [11 favorites]


you don't actually know she is lying. She could have made a careless mistake. I think you should just assume that she made a mistake and be as polite as possible, especially if you want this job.
posted by bearette at 3:57 PM on March 9, 2010


Stop trying to adduce the motivations of those other than yourself and focus only on those things that you can control.

Life is much better that way.
posted by dfriedman at 3:59 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


1) Most people probably don't think they screwed up.

2) Some of them will throw you under the bus.

3) Maybe it's uniquely American, but focusing on the end-goal, rather than any roadblocks/misunderstandings/whatever seems to be the Way Things Are Done.

The HR person is probably wondering why you didn't follow up before the interview if you hadn't heard from her.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:06 PM on March 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


Thosevare just numbered thoughts, not answers to your numbered questions.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:07 PM on March 9, 2010


It's a little difficult to respond to your questions since you only offer a single scenario to illustrate your concerns.

In situations similar to the one you outline, though, my strategy has been to suggest that I must have made a mistake (e.g., "I'm certainly no expert on email and may well have missed it") and then turn the discussion to exploring ways to solve our common problem ("Is there a way we can reschedule the interview?"). What generally happens is that the other person takes responsibility for the screw-up (e.g., "I know I certainly meant to send that email but we were having server problems about that time so the mistake may well have been on my end"), to which I make no comment, and we move on to solve the problem.

In my (hard-won) experience, this is the best way to preserve or even strengthen the relationship, without any blame being levied against either party. Of course, this strategy is always more effective if you're at least willing to entertain the possibility that you, indeed, were the party at fault.
posted by DrGail at 4:10 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


accepting this kind of behavior by personally accepting blame and (saying that I missed the email, when I did not) is degrading and mentally unhealthy in the long run.

A little humility isn't mentally unhealthy. Neither is it mentally unhealthy to avoid hostility toward strangers. Sure, this person might have outright lied: she might know for a fact that she never sent the e-mail. But I think it's equally plausible that she genuinely believes she sent it. Even if she didn't send it--even if this is totally her fault--if she believes that she sent the e-mail, it is not a lie for her to say "I sent the e-mail." She might be completely ignorant about technology, or she might be really busy, or she might just be dumb. That doesn't mean she is maliciously and intentionally trying to get you to admit to something you didn't do.

In terms of the appropriate social response, you're both wrong because you're both being stubborn: the HR woman by not acknowledging the possibility that she made a mistake, and you by not acknowledging the possibility that you made a mistake. However, the HR person is in a position of power--she loses nothing by insisting that she sent the e-mail, whereas you might be able to reschedule the interview if you sucked it up and said, "I didn't think there was anything wrong with my e-mail system, but it's possible my spam-filter was overzealous. I'm sorry for this mix-up. Is there any way we can reschedule?"
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:12 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Probably the HR person genuinely misremembered the event and was positive she'd sent you the e-mail (she wasn't lying, she was wrong); or she did send you the e-mail and the internet hiccuped (she wasn't lying); or the problem WAS on your end (she wasn't lying); or the problem WAS on her end and she didn't know about it (she wasn't lying); OR she was lying. In any case, why didn't you follow up with her a second time and say, "I just wanted to check in: I didn't get a follow-up e-mail, I just wanted to make sure it didn't get stuck in the tubes somewhere"?

And this: "stating explicitly that I have taken care of my part flawlessly, and that the person in question is lying, always makes people furious. They really get mad, and many times start yelling and freaking out."

Happens because saying, "I am correct, and you are a liar," is a VERY confrontational statement, particularly from someone you don't know. Calling someone a liar in a professional context in the Anglo-American world is a Big Deal. (Witness Joe Wilson.) If you don't have PROOF that they lied -- not that there was a misunderstanding, not that there was a technological hiccup, not that it was an honest error -- you are throwing around about as offensive an accusation as you possibly can in a professional environment without resorting to racial slurs. I'm not trying to be flamey; I mean that quite seriously. While Americans are fairly direct people who place a premium on honesty in personal dealings; therefore, accusations of DIShonesty are one thing Americans will be pretty circumspect about unless they have actual proof.

If someone accused one of my employees of lying, I would take that accusation EXTREMELY seriously, but if I found out that this accusation of lying was based on such slim evidence as you've presented here, I would think of YOU as unprofessional and untrustworthy because of such a serious accusation on such flimsy evidence.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:20 PM on March 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


She claims to have sent a confirmation email with details, and states that it must have ended up in my junk mail. I have added her to my preferred sender list, and my junk mail is empty. It does not auto-delete. So, I know she is lying.

no, you don't. you know that she claims to have sent an email that you have not received. the number of ways this could happen are numerous and utterly unimportant.

rather than burning up about assigning blame, or being so steadfast in your unsupported belief that they are lying, you need to get over yourself, realize that sometimes shit happens, and your real focus should be on re-scheduling the interview, being diligent in making sure you know when and where to show up and not expect it to be handed to you on a platter, and not coming off like a complete ass in your interview.
posted by jimw at 4:27 PM on March 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Q1: What kind of strategies do you use to mitigate these kinds of issues in your everyday life?

I go in without any expectations so it's not infuriating when people don't hold up on their end of things. That way when someone doesn't do what they're supposed to, or lies, or anything else bad, I can rationally evaluate the best response rather than have an emotional reaction that will probably blow up in my face. Note that not having expectations doesn't mean be pre-disposed to think people will disappoint you, either, because that's not a great attitude to have. I tend to look at it (somewhat) more empathetically: people will do bad things for all sorts of reasons and it doesn't mean they're bad people. That helps with the "not getting infuriated" part.

Also, just being realistic: people are routinely going to do this sort of thing as you go through life, and you can either be outraged every time, or not. It really is your choice, as hard as it can be sometimes.

Q2: What is the socially ”correct way” (according to good manners) to behave in this situation? Especially if it is a job/professionally related situation.

I think you're a bit blinded by irritation that she lied to you; in this particular circumstance, you have no leg to stand on even though you did nothing wrong. You don't work for the company. No company owes anyone an interview. If you call her out, you're just going to look crazy and burn bridges. Hell, even if other people in her company know she's flaky at best they just won't think you're crazy; you still won't get interviewed there, especially if you accuse -- even tactfully -- an existing employee of lying. It would be too much drama.

Your only reasonable option in this circumstance is to say you're not sure what happened but you never received the e-mail, so is there any way you could still get an interview? If she says no, it doesn't matter that she lied, nothing is going to change anything and you can only harm yourself by calling her out.

In other situations, like if a coworker lies about something that makes you look bad, I would calmly meet with your boss privately, and simply say, "I don't know why he/she said XYZ, but this is what actually happened." If you seem reasonable and unruffled, like you don't have anything against the liar and don't want to engage with what motivation they might have had, then you'll be much more believable. If you are angry or defensive or vindictive or try to say they lied because they're jealous or mean or lazy or flaky or whatever, you're going to be just as suspect as they are.

Q3: What is the logic of the liar? From our standpoint, it is more respectable to admit one’s mistake, as it is simply human and everybody makes mistakes, than lose trust and seem like a total jerk by lying and getting caught immediately. For example, how come a Harvard etc. grad (or someone with extremely high qualifications in their field) can be so naive that he/she believes he/she can get away with that?

People that are insecure pursue and achieve prestige just like normal people. When they get that prestige, losing it a much bigger blow to their sense of self than it is a normal person. So they lie to protect it. They also use the prestige to make those lies believable; precisely because of their prestige, it can be believable to other people that they did nothing wrong and their victim was really the screw-up.

Insecure people have a lot of trouble admitting they've done anything wrong. It's much easier to admit you've screwed up when your sense of self-worth is solid, but when you don't actually value yourself and instead value your job or money or abilities or something else, you can't bear to think for a moment that you fucked up in that capacity. Some people in prestigious positions have their self-esteem too wrapped up in those positions, have even grown up thinking that their value is determined by their position in life. So you have, say, your normal Harvard grads, and then you have the kid who grew up insecure because his parents only ever cared about him when he got good grades, so he put everything into that and getting into Harvard meant he was a success, and graduating and getting this job means he's a success, and if he fucks this up then it means he's nothing. So he's too scared to let anyone know when he has messed up -- he can't even handle letting himself know he has messed up. He expects everyone not to like him anymore if he messes up, and he doesn't like himself when he messes up. It makes him feel inferior and like he doesn't belong around these other qualified people. So he'll lie to himself and anyone else, if necessary.

Then some people are just sociopaths, but that's actually pretty rare.

Q4: Other thoughts? Do we just have to learn to suck it up? Or, how do we get past other people trying to dump the responsibility of the mess they have created/their own faults or lack of organization into our laps?

I think it would help if you didn't take it so personally. I realize that's very hard, but there's a big difference between someone dumping responsibility in your laps maliciously, and dumping responsibility in your lap because they're a weaker person than they'd probably like to be. The latter is kind of sad and when I think about it that way, I'm much more likely to respond with a small amount of empathy than the urge to destroy. Remember, reacting in an angry way only results in drama, and stirring drama isn't a much more desirable trait than being a liar. It took me a long time to figure that out, but I'm glad I did.
posted by Nattie at 4:30 PM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've had to train myself to make sure that situations like these never come about in the first place. By that I mean to never "assume" anything, and take proactive steps to control any situation.

If you didn't hear back from the HR person - despite the email you sent - you should have given her a call the day before the proposed interview date to confirm if the appointment was happening or not. Don't give the other person the opportunity to make a mistake or to bring about a misunderstanding. You can control your interaction with others so that it never becomes an issue at all.

Become the responsible person who makes the additional check on appointment times and meetings, just to be sure. You don't have to be crazy about it, just be proactive about everything in a professional setting - meetings/tasks/etc. It helps to stave off any misunderstandings before they happen. Not only that, but it gives you a good reputation as that person who is always on the ball. It takes a bit of practice - and it can be hard to keep it up when you are super busy - but it's definitely worth it.

Oh, and on preview - what Eyebrows McGee said.
posted by gemmy at 4:30 PM on March 9, 2010 [8 favorites]


I can't tell you how many times I used to say "I am 100% positive that this is the way it is" only to have it proven to me that I was wrong. I'm a lot more open to the fact that either I'm wrong, or that the universe did something to affect the results (e.g. stray cosmic ray deleted the email en route to you)

As the old saw says "You know what happens when you assume?"

If you haven't received confirmation about an interview and you didn't call or email to figure out what happened, I not be sure I'd want to on my team or that you didn't really want the job all that much.

That said, I have had to make a point of asking people to show the assembled team at a meeting their sent mail outbox when it was 110% clear they were lying about doing some work / sending emails and were trying to assign blame to someone else.

That is the nuclear option and pretty much no good comes of it.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 4:30 PM on March 9, 2010


So, I know she is lying.

That's a very cynical conclusion. There are legitimate technical errors and innocent human mistakes that could have prevented you from getting that email message; email is not a guaranteed medium. As fixedgear says, this is a misunderstanding. You could have prevented it with more communication.

That said, when it comes to communication, people are often unreliable. There's a skill that I associate with good managers I've seen: They notice when a process is stalled, and gently nudge those responsible until it's back on track. Proactively. Without making accusations.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 4:34 PM on March 9, 2010


Your example is a very poor one. Emails do go missing from time to time (in my experience about 1/1000 go missing due to no fault by either end user), just because you didn't receive it doesn't mean she didn't send it. In this scenario you didn't take care of your part flawlessly - when she didn't respond within a reasonably time frame you should have followed up.

You say you have other examples, perhaps you could provide some as in the example you've provided its unlikely that the HR person was lying and you could have mitigated the entire situation with a simple follow up rather than assuming the person had blown you off. IMO, in that scenario, you were in the wrong.

It makes no sense for her to knowingly not send you the details then chase you up to find out why you didn't show. if she simply forgot to email you or was too busy to she could have just said so, she's in the position of power here, she doesn't need to make up excuses.

Based on what you've written it sounds more likely you have an overly negative view of other people and assume the worst of them. Your 'options' make no allowance for something not being anyone's fault - it wasn't your fault, therefore you assume it must be their fault and if they say it isn't their fault then you're assuming they're lying and blaming you.

you're both wrong because you're both being stubborn: the HR woman by not acknowledging the possibility that she made a mistake
FWIW, she may know for sure that she sent the email by having checked her 'sent' items in her email program.
posted by missmagenta at 4:34 PM on March 9, 2010


Responses so far seem to assume that, at least in the example you cited, the people you assume are "lying" are probably either incompetent or have made an honest mistake/miscommunication/etc. Generally speaking, I'd agree with them (especially in the situation you gave -- what possible benefit could you gain from "confronting"/potentially angering someone who you want to hire you?).

However, sometimes people DO lie in professional situations. Most of the time there's still room for doubt (the great email void? an IT mistake? simple misrecollection?), but I've been in situations where it's clearly a lie, or where the person I'm dealing with has had a pattern of being somewhat shady. So I think your question deserve fair answers:

Q1: What kind of strategies do you use to mitigate these kinds of issues in your everyday life?
Communication, communication, communication. Document as much as possible with follow-up emails. I don't do this all the time (annoying!) but for people with whom I've had problems in the past, I'll often make sure to follow a meeting with a quick summing-it-up email with the things we both promised to do, dates, etc.

If it's a coworker with a particularly egregious habit, or a project/deadline which could come back to bite me in the ass, I'll cc someone else who's slightly higher up the food chain (and make sure there's some plausible reason to CC them, other than "I don't think you'll do your work otherwise"). Warning: I use this tactic very rarely and with great discretion, as 1) it can undermine your own authority (can make you look like you can't handle your business and need someone looking over your shoulder); 2) can be irritating to the higher-up, who after all pays you do get this stuff done; and 3) is incredibly irritating when done to someone who hasn't merited it.

Q2: What is the socially ”correct way” (according to good manners) to behave in this situation? Especially if it is a job/professionally related situation.
If you call them out on it, you'd better be ready to sever all relations and make sure they don't have anything you need. Basically, unless I owned my own company and could easily replace the person/service being provided, I'd never do it. If you're working fora company it's generally not your place to decide who the company does business with. Plus, they're likely to deny it. If you work together, this could escalate and poison your working relationship. What do you get out of it besides (maybe) a moment's satisfaction at speaking your mind? Possible cons: They'll badmouth you in the future. You could be tagged "not a team player." Others in your group might worry you'll do the same to them (remember, other people don't know if a lie was truly told or not). Either way, when you call someone out you're burning bridges, and there's almost always better ways to handle it.

The way I try to handle it is by gently, but firmly, asserting what I believe the truth to be ("I'm pretty sure we said the due date was 3/12 in the last meeting...") while graciously giving them an out ("...but perhaps you had a further conversation I wasn't included in. We can both go back to our notes and check"). And then I go the find the email and forward it with a quick header, making sure NOT to sound obnoxious about being right.

I think this strategy (being gently assertive, but giving a gracious "out") works in almost all situations, whether you're talking to a coworker or someone outside your organization. You can differ the levels of assertiveness/deference depending on who you're talking to.

I would however say that if the lie is big enough/damaging enough, or the pattern of lying is pernicious enough, AND YOU'RE SURE IT'S NOT A MISTAKE on your part, you might be justified in speaking to your/their boss. But you better be ready to back it up, and you'd better be ready to be viewed as a troublemaker by your boss.

Q3: What is the logic of the liar? From our standpoint, it is more respectable to admit one’s mistake, as it is simply human and everybody makes mistakes, than lose trust and seem like a total jerk by lying and getting caught immediately. For example, how come a Harvard etc. grad (or someone with extremely high qualifications in their field) can be so naive that he/she believes he/she can get away with that?
This one's easy, assuming it's a true lie. Not everybody has the same moral values as you. Some people view the risk of being caught as worth the reward of not looking incompetent. Also, they do probably get away with it fairly often. Most of the kind of thing you're talking about just can't be proved--it's all hearsay.

Q4: Other thoughts? Do we just have to learn to suck it up? Or, how do we get past other people trying to dump the responsibility of the mess they have created/their own faults or lack of organization into our laps?
Yup, pretty much. You just have to guard against it as much as possible by making sure to cover your own ass along the way. Make sure it's clear, on paper, whose responsibilities certain things are. Check in, if it's your job. Mention your concerns (about the progress of the project, not the possible lying) to the appropriate people.

But the thing is, most of this is applicable to protecting yourself against someone throwing you under the bus to protect themselves, AND just plain old disorganization or incompetence. People aren't always as on top of things as we'd like, but it's generally not malice that's driving it. Good communication is ALWAYS a good thing, and that's what most of the above it.

(sorry for the crazy-long response!)
posted by alleycat01 at 4:35 PM on March 9, 2010


I think others have this covered pretty well.

Things that will help you, in no particular order:

Give up the illusion that your explanation is the explanation, and give others the benefit of as much doubt as you can possibly muster.

Make a positive internal commitment to ascribing misfortune to random chance, rather than malice, unless you have cast iron evidence to the contrary. For example: in the missing HR email case, what I mean by cast iron evidence would be a 24/7 surveillance tape of the person concerned that clearly shows that at no time did an email intended for you get sent from a computer under their control.

You can't control what others do, and shouldn't attempt to try.

Next time you're within a day of a suggested interview date and have received no confirmation, make it your job to get on the phone and get some.

Exercise a little empathy. How would you react if accused of lying when you were dead sure you hadn't?

Try not to treat every interaction with other people as a contest to see whose integrity is superior. The trouble with those contests is that they generally turn into excellent examples of winning the battle but losing the war.
posted by flabdablet at 4:39 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


People who are liars in a professional setting suck. No doubt about it, it's weak and lame. Fortunately, I have found that people with no integrity rarely succeed indefinitely; lies will eventually always get caught, and by someone with enough power to act. That person is not me, so, whatever.

But you know who else I find gets nowhere in a professional environment? People who are obsessed with placing blame instead of resolving whatever the problem was and moving on. Something about protesting too much or something. It comes off as shady and evasive.
posted by mckenney at 5:02 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


A vingette:
We told Junior, aged about 7, to brush his teeth. He said he already had. How strange! We didn't see him in the bathroom. He didn't usually do it without a reminder. Checked up on it. His toothbrush was DRY. dry. dry. dry. Confrontation. "Why are you lying about this?" 'I did , I did brush them.'

This made no sense at all. He was not *ever* a lying child, but this was pretty blatant. The argument went on for a good 20 minutes or so, with us trying to wring a confession out of him and him insisting on his dental hygiene. I don't think there was a spanking involved, but there was definitely brushing.

He is 23 now, but still remembers the incident. Today he says 'I don't understand it, I thought I had brushed already.'

So, is he a liar? I don't think so. We were insistent because we were the parents and had to make sure he knew not to lie. He honestly thought he had brushed already.

You're not the parent of the people you are talking about. Lots of things could have happened. Quit being so self righteous and learn to play nicely with others.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:12 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the HR person, not the sysadmin. There is an extremely good chance that a mistake was made on her end that she would have no way of knowing about. There is also a pretty good chance that you are wrong about your spam filter. I wouldn't disagree that NYC is ripe with liars willing to throw you under the bus; however, this example is so far off the mark as to make you seem unhinged and paranoid.

Q1: Therapy to address the rabid self-righteousness problem.
Q2: Reply with "I am so sorry (you are sorry, because you want the interview), I never received that email and was still awaiting your confirmation. Is there any way we can reschedule the interview?"
Q3: People lie for many reasons. Ignorance, mistaken ideas or bad facts, malice. There is no "philosophy of lying" that is universal. Learn to separate carelessless, ignorance, mistakes, etc. from malice. There is a huge difference between someone "lying" to you about something they were ill informed on, and someone lying to you.
Q4: I'm not sure you need to suck it up, but you do need to get over yourself. Your phrasing is highly dramatic and it indicates that you take personally what is most likely, a few minor mistakes.

To be totally frank with you, if I said to someone who didn't get or ignored or deleted accidentally an important email "Oh, it must be in your spam filter", it would be a generous statement indicating that a very common and innocuous error was probably made, not an accusation. She probably thinks YOU are a liar or careless; but she is extending the olive branch so to speak.
posted by shownomercy at 5:16 PM on March 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


I agree with shownomercy. You sound like you need professional therapy.
posted by ewiar at 5:27 PM on March 9, 2010


Cope with this problem - whether it arises from misunderstandings, lies, stupidity or whatever - by taking responsibility for your own life. If you were an employee of mine confirming a meeting in your example, and the date slipped because you never got a time and location email back, I'd be correcting you and critical of your "follow up". Put differently, you were equally unprofessional by failing to follow up.

With important matters, when you don't get an answer from someone, you follow up. Watching your own interests by taking responsibility with follow up is emotionally neutral: you are not treating people like liars, you are not calling them dumb, but you are simply getting your facts straight.

This is a fact of life in professional employment as I understand it. People slip up and when they do, it is human to attempt to cover their asses. You cope with it not by pronouncing from your pillar about what liars people are, but by taking enough responsibility, follow up and so forth to prevent the problems.
posted by bunnycup at 5:29 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


In many of these instances you need to make the exchange transactional, i.e. she said she will email you the details, you need to say: Thanks, appreciate, when can i expect the email?

She will reply with a time or not reply. She does not reply follow up with a phone call. "hi, I'm still waiting on confirmation of appointment..." the onus is on you to manage this - so manage it. She may not be lying, she might have genuinely thought she sent you the email, may have got your address wrong- or some other communication break down- happens all the time. As I said, you need to manage it so it doesn't happen again. Set deadlines and expectations, and follow up if they are not met.
posted by mattoxic at 5:53 PM on March 9, 2010


It seems from your questions that you are so caught up with "OMG this woman is a LIAR!" that you are forgetting what is at stake here.

Q1: What kind of strategies do you use to mitigate these kinds of issues in your everyday life?

I prepare for just about every eventuality. I expect that sometimes others will screw up. I accept that sometimes I screw up, too. So I just try to deal with the situation AS IS, rather than the way I think it SHOULD have gone.

Q2: What is the socially ”correct way” (according to good manners) to behave in this situation? Especially if it is a job/professionally related situation.


Which is more important, being right, or being hired? If you really want this job, I would just go forward with, "I'm really sorry for the miscommunication (you don't have to say whose), can we go ahead and reschedule the interview right now?"

Q3: What is the logic of the liar? From our standpoint, it is more respectable to admit one’s mistake, as it is simply human and everybody makes mistakes, than lose trust and seem like a total jerk by lying and getting caught immediately. For example, how come a Harvard etc. grad (or someone with extremely high qualifications in their field) can be so naive that he/she believes he/she can get away with that?

No idea (again, you may be mistaken that she is willfully lying, too). You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out other people's motivations. Not worth the stress, in my opinion.

Q4: Other thoughts? Do we just have to learn to suck it up? Or, how do we get past other people trying to dump the responsibility of the mess they have created/their own faults or lack of organization into our laps?

In the future, it would be healthier for you not to fixate on assigning blame, but to be more proactive in the first place so that these situations are less likely to occur. In your situation, as the interview date neared, I'd have emailed her again. And if you know that the HR is from a certain company, what's stopping you from looking up the address, calling the firm, etc.?
posted by misha at 5:54 PM on March 9, 2010


How can you deal with this sort of situation? Others are correct that it's usually best to just figure out how to solve the problem instead of dwelling on how the problem got started in the first place. They're also correct that, a lot of the time, you're only assuming that the person is lying instead of being honest but wrong. But, in those situations where you feel like a lie is being made in order to attack you, like you have to say something to stand up for yourself, stick to saying only what you really know. No assumptions, no extrapolations, just complete, non-contestable facts.

In your example: "Man, I was really waiting for that e-mail, and I've checked my spam filter, and I even made sure your address was white listed! I don't know how it possibly could have gotten lost -- that's never happened before."

Don't say it as an attack -- your purpose really is just to make clear that you did everything that you were supposed to, not prove the other person wrong. If some observer comes to the conclusion that the liar is lying, great, but if not, no harm done. All that really matters, in a situation where you feel like the lie is being used to attack or discredit you, is showing that you do not deserve to be so attacked or discredited. Nothing about your life changes if the lie is discovered (or if it even is a lie), so you have no reason to worry about it.
posted by Ms. Saint at 6:19 PM on March 9, 2010


In the example you gave, you have made a reasonable deduction that this HR person lied to you. You could have come to another equally reasonable conclusion that she sent the email but it did not get to you, through no fault of either of you. Given these options, I would choose to give the person the benefit of the doubt, and move on to the important matter at hand. It's more productive and less draining on my energy. If it happens more than once, than that's another story altogether.

People lie or abdicate responsibility for all sorts of reasons. If we're talking about something that is high stakes (ie something you could be fired for), then by all means stick to your guns, offer your proof, and defend yourself vigorously. If the matter at hand can be chalked up to a misunderstanding or some sort of technological error, then don't waste your time and energy trying to assign blame or prove you didn't do anything wrong, just address the actual issue and think of ways to prevent similar things happening in the future, including back-up systems or being more pro-active. You will be happier for it.
posted by katemcd at 6:24 PM on March 9, 2010


If you think - as you allude in the question - that there is a pattern of people lying to or misrepresenting you, I think that you may have some broader problems. That's very paranoid.

It's understandable, you're in a new country and culture where you obviously feel on the outs. The temptation to believe that people are working or conspiring against you - especially when you have such an obvious point of difference (nationality) - is a strong one. But it is wrong. Spend some more time getting to know the people and environment around you, as you feel more comfortable, these feelings of persecution and/or paranoia may fade.

Also, I hate people who get obsessed about whether they're right or wrong. I don't care, why should you? You don't win a prize for being right. You win prizes for being likable, compassionate, generous, flexible, etc. Aim for those prizes.
posted by smoke at 6:58 PM on March 9, 2010


An HR-person has suggested a date for my job interview. I reply and ask for a more precise time and location. She never gets back to me.

If you want the job, you should follow up again and find out when to show up for the interview! She gave you a date for a job interview, which is giving you your opportunity to get the job, at which you have to prove to the company that they'd want to hire you (and yes, figure out if it's a place you want to work). After all, they can just as well hire somebody else who does bother to take a little extra step to find out the time of their job interview. Even if HR screwed up and forgot to tell you, you need to ask them.

When someone in a professional situation is possibly lying to me, sure I find a polite way to dance around it. "All right. For some reason, I didn't receive the email and thought I was no longer under consideration for the job. I'm sorry for the inconvenience but I am still strongly interested. Can we reschedule?" (After all, things can happen with email especially when people are busy, and she may think YOU got it and are lying!)

It's a serious thing to call somebody a liar and you are often effectively burning bridges with that person, and they're going to react very badly to being called out like that. Give them a chance to save face because if they are lying, they know it, so you are kind of doing them a favor if you're giving them a chance to resolve the situation without making it plain that they're a liar. But IMHO saying so is almost always a bad idea, unless you are law enforcement playing bad cop... I mean even if it's the booth operator at the parking garage who clearly stole an extra $15 from your change, you say, "Excuse me, I think there must have been a mistake, I'm sure I gave you a $20 but I got change for a $10, would you mind double checking?"

I don't find this psychologically unhealthy, it's kind of an art form. I've lied to people. I try hard not to. Usually it's because I'm ashamed of something I screwed up and I don't know if they'll believe or understand. Such as, saying I was late because I forgot to set my alarm, as opposed to saying I was late because I had a stress-out for no reason and couldn't make myself leave on time without neurotically double checking a dozen little things. Who wants to tell the boss that. Another situation would be where the choice is to narc on your friends, or lie - I lied to residence life staff at college when telling the truth would have gotten my friends in trouble, when some damage happened in a dorm and I wasn't about to say who did it. I'm not about to narc on my friends. So uncool.

So if the HR person actually did not send you that email but realized this too late, and is in fact lying to you, maybe she did schedule that time with the interviewers. And they were waiting. And now they're annoyed. And her options are, say she sent the email and you didn't get it, or fess up to a mistake that might get her in some trouble.
posted by citron at 7:11 PM on March 9, 2010


I agree with this: "I think you should just assume that she made a mistake and be as polite as possible." It will smooth future interactions if you're wrong about the lying. And if you're right about the lying, being charitable may either make them feel like an idiot, or (if you become an proactive follow-upper, as others have suggested) they won't think about it, and you'll look very competent. "Oh - there was a problem. Let's resolve it, if necessary, and is there another approach I can take next time?" is a thought that moves the situation forward without blame, and keeps the responsibility where you can handle it: on yourself.

If recognizing the lie were really important to me, I would just acknowledge it to myself and move on - "She lied. That's sad. I wonder what led her to do something that seems ridiculous. Interesting. Next item..." Drama doesn't have to exist unless you let it. If the problem is affecting your work, maybe escalation is possible, but not in a tattle-tale way -- find a practical expression of it that could be recognized as a legitimate issue OR a subtle way of reporting dishonesty (saving face / saving your back). In the example of the email, if it happened on a regular basis, maybe it would be possible to consult a supervisor on the issue that, somehow, communications are being lost. Ask about speaking with tech support. This wouldn't work if it were done in a bratty way, however; you have to genuinely be interested in resolving the issue as opposed to outing a colleague.

If someone says something you believe to be a lie, say: "I thought ___ [what you think is the truth]." Give an out: "However, it's possible that I misunderstood." These are both true statements, even if you think the possibility of a misunderstanding is 1 in a million, and you're not pretending something is true that you understand to be untrue.
posted by ramenopres at 7:57 PM on March 9, 2010


The first thing to do is learn to recognize hills worth dying on. (Hint: your example isn't one.)

If it isn't worth dying on, just assume the best possible motivations in the other person, act as if that were true even if it probably wasn't, and go from there to see if you can solve the problem caused or covered up by the lie.

If it is worth pursuing, because the lie is a big lie that will have a direct, obvious impact on you and can likely be resolved favorably, then make damned sure you're absolutely, 100% correct before taking any kind of action. Find out all the facts, understand the liars lie completely, figure out the impact and who has the authority to mitigate it and take it to them. Even then, I'd work really hard to avoid the word 'lie' in favor of 'misunderstanding' or 'miscommunication'.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:04 PM on March 9, 2010


....my (American) wife and I have repeatedly faced situations in which...people try to make me (or her) responsible for their own mistakes by lying or being deceitful.

You and your wife both suffering an unusually high incidence of being lied to sounds less likely to me than both of you having a tendency toward jumping to conclusions and getting each other worked up.

Beware the tendency toward folie a deux. You might try taking turns being the voice of reason and perspective, and talking each other down rather than winding each other up.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:06 PM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


a) accepting this kind of behavior by personally accepting blame and (saying that I missed the email, when I did not) is degrading and mentally unhealthy in the long run. If I do this, I essentially let people treat me as their personal dumping ground. Still, this is an easy way out, but may also cause professional problems later on.

You could say, "oh, maybe the email got lost somewhere."

And FWIW if I were expecting a critical email, or sending a critical email, I'd follow up by some other means to ensure the message got through. I've seen too many examples of this, people fire off an email or a hard copy memo, they don't follow up, and nothing happens. And then there's consternation.

You could take the blame, just as a noble gesture. Like, "oh, I'm sorry, I ought to have phoned and confirmed whether there would be an interview". It's true, you should have. YOU are the guy who wants a job, right?

b) stating explicitly that I have taken care of my part flawlessly, and that the person in question is lying, always makes people furious. They really get mad, and many times start yelling and freaking out. Still, it is personally tempting, as it is inherently wrong to even implicitly blame other people for your own mistakes. Further, confronting the liar openly is psychologically sound, as it is likely to lessen lying and I don’t let him/her to push me. However, it can really burn bridges.

Getting back to the problem: a key email didn't arrive. You're assuming that the flaw is the other person, and the flaw was precipitated by deliberate negligence or incompetence, and their denials are lies. Those are pretty big assumptions. Could it be, for example, the HR person maybe mistyped your email address by one letter, and then the email didn't make it?

Yes, people hate to be accused of lying. Even (especially?) if it's true. While I also find it enraging to be lied to, at the same time I'll say it's best not to confront it, unless you've got hard evidence, AND you feel there is some merit in doing so, AND the lie in question is causing you direct harm. AND if you're prepared to basically severe your relations, personal or professional, from the liar. Because at that point you've basically severed things.

FWIW you come across as a perfectionist, and the other person comes across as a condemned, flawed person. I'd be pretty irritated too, if a mutual mixup ended in me being accused of moral dishonesty.

c) There is a middle ground by responding that my email works fine (she is white listed, and my junk mail is empty). Then, the problem must be in her email system. This is a softer approach to confront the liar...this approach is essentially playing the liar’s game, and the liars have a tendency to be crabby about this response.

You're saying that you're 100.000% sure all the hardware and software involved here - not just your mutual PCs, but that of the internet between her PC and yours, is 100.000% bug free? If so, you are unfamiliar with modern technology.

Getting back to the job interview- is any of this worth it? is it worth it getting into a finger-pointing exercise if it means it'll cost you a job?
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 1:53 PM on March 10, 2010


Thanks for your great answers. You truly have to the point views. Almost every comment adds something essential to the topic, and should be marked as the best answer. Finally:

What we learned
a) Always be proactive, and steer away from potential collisions in advance.
b) Always assume possibility (even if small) of technical error too.
c) If the social collision happens, and somebody blames you, try to indicate a neutral cause outside if possible. Thus, you can avoid bearing unjust accusations, but also avoid potential fights.
d) Choose carefully your battles
e) Partially this is NYC. People have very little time, and some people simply don't care
f) Partially it is cultural:
- In the US, it seems to be the best strategy to only strive for one's personal goals and aspirations i.e. the end-result, as you suggest. Somewhere else, people might respect that you openly and trustingly sort these things out, in order to increase mutual trust between persons.
- This is a bad stereotype I know, but people are actually more worried about their "face" in the US than in Scandinavia. It is not so important what you DO, as long as you don't get blamed in public. People more often than not cannot take the fact that they are judged by their deeds, not words. Thus, their first reaction is to get mad.
- One important finding (for me as a foreigner) is that these kinds of problems emerge mainly, when there is a power inequality (employer vs. employee). The person having the upper hand uses his/her position for her own benefit, because she can... Unethical, absolutely, but it seems to be a habit.
g) Finally, it is a two-way street. We all make mistakes. Hence, allow the person in question a way out. If he/she is of any good, she will notice, which will increase mutual trust again. If she does not recognize this, you know what to assume in the future...

This case
a) This event happened to my wife (American)
b) The HR -person turned out to be a total flake, and as some of you indirectly suggested this behavior revealed a lot about the company too. Luckily, she chose a better company, and is happy with her new job and people. :)
posted by Doggiebreath at 3:07 AM on June 23, 2010


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