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Is there a case for lying at work?


A social business is one that’s largely built around trust.  Whenever you’re collaborating or innovating with someone else, or even sharing knowledge and advice with them, then you need to feel confident that they will treat you right.  Being honest would therefore seem a good foundation for such a culture, with candid feedback and transparent flows of information a pre-requisite of a collaborative culture.

Are there circumstances where lying might be valuable however?  That was the question Oxford University academic Robin Dunbar posed in a recent study that set out to explore whether lying can help or harm the social bonds that link us together.

He suggests that there are right and wrong reasons for lying that largely depend on the situation.  For instance, covering up a mistake is something that can probably be regarded as a bad thing, and is classified as antisocial lying.  What they call pro-social lying however (ie a white lie), can often be positive.

The researchers tested their hypothesis by constructing a mathematical model to simulate the impact of telling social vs anti-social lies within ones social network.  The model revealed that people who told anti-social lies would typically get ostracized by their social network in pretty quick time.  The same would not occur for the pro-social liars.

Suffice to say, this was a hypothetical model, so probably deserves consuming with a pinch of salt, yet the researchers remained confident that their approach has merit, not least of which was in understanding the impact of lying in online communities.

This is especially likely to occur on social networks, where pushing the like button or sharing an update is almost a throwaway gesture, and it’s very difficult to determine the authentic show of support from the disingenuous one.

With trust such a big issue in the workplace, how does your organization handle the truth?

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