Little White Lies

Speaking the truth! We’re all honest, aren’t we? Whenever I ask my clients what they value most, honesty almost always comes up. Not only do we value honesty in ourselves, it is often cited as an absolute requirement for new partners, new employees and friends. It seems honesty is an absolute must for social cohesion.

And yet I know honesty is not always easy or comfortable.

I grew up in a household where emotions were not expressed. There was a lot of tension between people because of all the things that weren’t being said. So, I learnt to stay quiet, and not speak up.

Whilst I may have avoided a lot of arguments and upsets, I also avoided intimacy because nobody really knew how I felt. I also lacked confidence because I started to feel my opinion was less important than other peoples.

What little white lies?

When we say ‘I’ll be ten minutes’ and we know we’ll be at least an hour. When we say, ‘Yes, I’ll come to the event on Friday night’ and we know we’re going to look for any excuse not to go. When we say to an employee ‘I’m sorry, due to restructuring we’re going to have to let you go,’ when we know the employee is difficult to work with and nobody likes him or her.

These may be small lies on the surface, but they point to a bigger lie that can erode our own power to lead others.

Why do we do it?

Sometimes we think it is kinder to tell little white lies because we think we are protecting people. They don’t really need to know how bad the finances are, they don’t really need to know how bad their performance was. Surely it is kinder to gloss over the truth. You can hear how patronising that is right? It’s like we’re saying they are children that can’t handle the truth.

Sometimes we don’t have the time or the energy. We’re tired and it’s so much easier just to let it go.

So we gloss over an inconvenient truth that may lead to a sticky situation. I say yes to you to keep the peace, to avoid a big discussion where I may have to admit something I’m not ready to admit; I don’t want to get into a fight and possibly lose my job; or lose a good employee.

And then we wonder why people don’t step up, take more responsibility. We wonder why people don’t improve when we never told them in the first place that they needed to improve. When we are willing to tell people the truth they can become part of the solution.

Courage to speak our truth

There is only one real reason why we don’t tell the truth. And that’s courage.

It takes emotional courage to hold our own sense of self whilst telling someone honestly how we feel about a given situation. To stand in the face of possible conflict because we know performance needs to improve and we have to give honest feedback. To risk letting someone down when we change our YES to a NO. To risk being judged as unworthy or not good enough, when we declare our hearts truth.

It takes courage.

What are the Consequences?

There are consequences of telling little white lies.

Publicly: Little white lies lead to people not trusting us. They don’t necessarily know why they don’t trust us, it’s just some feeling they get. They just can’t get close to us, like we’re not quite there. And because of this lack of trust and lack of connection, we miss out on opportunities, our capacity to lead others is eroded.

In the worst-case scenario we become a standing joke – saying one thing and meaning something entirely different. ‘Oh, he’s always late, if he said 3, he’ll probably turn up at 5 when everyone else is leaving.’ Or ‘Oh, she always smiles, but trust me, if her eyelid starts twitching she is really angry and it’s time to run.’ People can work us out. We’re just not that clever to keep lying and get away with it.

Personally: Little white lies lead to a loss of self-confidence. If we’re not willing to be honest we lose our power and connection with others. Why? Because every time we push down the truth and say something that we think is easier to say – we create invisible barriers. We create an acceptable version of ourselves which is different to the real us. We then struggle to build intimate relationships, both at work and at home because there are all these things that we won’t say. This can also affect our health. Every time we verbalise something that is different to our internal truth, a little part of us, deep inside, dies.


There’s an old fashioned word for this. It’s called integrity. And the definition I like to use for integrity is ‘Mean what you say and say what you mean.’ Hopefully we can now see that having integrity is not always easy. It takes courage.

There’s something you need to know about speaking the truth too. It nearly always goes better than you think it will. People crave genuine connection with other people. And when we get real, we feel connected. So even though we may not always like what we’re hearing, we’d prefer the truth.

It just takes a little extra awareness. Are you really saying what you mean, or are you letting something glib come out of your mouth to keep the peace?

Are you speaking your truth?