You got to the office at 9:13 a.m. You took a one hour and seven minute lunch break. You locked up your office door at 4:52 p.m. Does this sound familiar? It should, because the truth is, almost all of us lie, no matter what our career development paths look like on the surface.
Researchers at Duke University have recently invested a great deal of time and money in a comprehensive behavioral management study that investigates the behavior of lying, and they have had some surprising results. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article:
“One percent of people will always be honest and never steal. Another 1% will always be dishonest and always try to pick your lock and steal your television; locks won’t do much to protect you from the hardened thieves, who can get into your house if they really want to. The purpose of locks…is to protect you from the 98% of mostly honest people who might be tempted to try your door if it had no lock.”
What does this mean? We humans tend to think in terms of black and white. We tend towards thinking of people as either good or bad, as either truthful or untruthful. The reality is that it is not that simple. According to the same article:
“Everybody has the capacity to be dishonest, and almost everybody cheats—just by a little. Except for a few outliers at the top and bottom, the behavior of almost everyone is driven by two opposing motivations. On the one hand, we want to benefit from cheating and get as much money and glory as possible; on the other hand, we want to view ourselves as honest, honorable people.”
In essence, we all want to get away with things while simultaneously still considering ourselves to be good people.
So what are the career development implications of this behavioral trait? The Duke researchers discovered that lying can lead to more lying, in individuals and groups. With this in mind, a culture of even minor dishonesty within a given organization could create serious behavioral management problems.
Is there a solution to the epidemic of little white lies? The article mentions two tricks that seem to help:
1. Don’t lecture employees about morality. Instead, provide concrete reminders about ethics and morality when it is decision-making time. The physical presence of an object such as a Bible or an American flag has actually been found to have more of an impact on employee honesty than something like a career development seminar about doing the right thing.
2. Provide a signature at the top rather than at the bottom of a form that requires honesty, such as a timesheet. If people sign their name before filling out the form, the contents of that form are much more likely to be truthful, according to the extensive Duke study.
Why does this matter? According to the same article:
“Although it is obviously important to pay attention to flagrant misbehaviors, it is probably even more important to discourage the small and more ubiquitous forms of dishonesty—the misbehavior that affects all of us, as both perpetrators and victims. This is especially true given what we know about the contagious nature of cheating and the way that small transgressions can grease the psychological skids to larger ones.”
So to cultivate an organizational culture of honesty, threats and lectures just don’t fit the bill. Instead, it is subconscious physical reminders of our own integrity that keep us honest.