We assume we’re more honest with people than we really are. School of Life Founder Alain de Botton says, “we lie because we need to think well of ourselves. We lie because we don’t want to feel so inadequate.”
In a recent conversation, The Truth About Lies with The Knowledge Project, Behavioural Economics Researcher Dan Ariely said we need heightened behaviour and vigilance about dishonesty. He said the amount of lying we choose to do is a balance between wanting to benefit from dishonesty, but not wanting to feel that we’re dishonest people. Sound familiar?
Instead he wants us to stop trying to solve dishonesty. “Honesty is a bit like dieting,” said Ariely in his conversation with podcast host Shane Parrish. “It’s not something you do once and fix. It’s something you have to fit in every day.”
When you find yourself making an excuse for why you won’t let an employee go, when you know it's best for that person and the team, when you know you need to take a vacation to get some rest because of all-nighters, and when you might need to seek help or speak to a mentor because you're burning out, you’ll need to know how to stop in the moment and question why you think you need to stay quiet or lie to yourself about what really needs to be done. Ariely encourages us to reflect with three questions—what he asks himself when he needs to step outside of his ego:
1. Think about yourself as an advisor—it’s not about you. So ask yourself, what would you advise someone in your situation to do? If a fellow entrepreneur came to you and said, “I'm not sleeping at night and feel really down,” what guidance would you give that person? Ariely says when you advise someone external, then you’re not as influenced by your own biases
2. Think about something in the long-term. Ask yourself, “what would happen if I had to make a decision about a thousand of the things I’m thinking about?” You might be trying to make a decision for one thing, but what if this was the standard decision you made for everything? Often, we take the more comfortable path that often only delays the hard decision we need to make.
3. Think about what would happen, if this was a larger decision. Would your decision still be the same? “When you add context, you’re less likely to give yourself a discount,” says Ariely. You'll be less likely to lean on the common way of thinking, “Oh, I’m doing this thing or that thing just this one time.” So, if an employee doesn't fit with the work culture and your team is picking up the slack, rather than feeling empathetic, you'll need to assess the long-term consequences of keeping that person on. It's probably better to be honest with yourself.