I worked for a media company for a little over four years and there was a person, who we will call Betty who started two years after me. We worked in different departments and about a month after she started she began having loud squabbles with her team members. It drove some of my workmates nuts to the point that nobody was willing to work with her. Seven months later, she submitted her resignation but not before she finally revealed what a snake she was! Turns out, the perpetual victim was in fact, a compulsive liar!
It never affected me directly, but it made me realize how important it is to deal with a compulsive liar at work. One of the biggest body language myths about liars is they’ll look at the floor or the ceiling but won’t make eye contact. Compulsive liars will look you straight into the eye and still tell the most brazen lie without ever batting an eyelash.
Before leaving, Betty slut shamed every female in the office, she broke the company smartphone twice and blamed the HR manager for it (both times!) and she lied to her juniors about the business tanking. The sad part about this story is that whenever all coworkers would go out for drinks, she would cry about how her husband was cheating on her, she had no money and no friends!
If you’re dealing with a compulsive liar, he or she has probably strong social skills. Neuropsychological evidence suggests that lying requires rapid thinking and good memory, both are which are strongly related to IQ. As it turns out, effective lying requires confidence, eloquence, and original thinking. Numerous studies have noted that a creative personality and a creative mindset promote individuals’ ability to justify their behavior, which, often leads to unethical behavior. In short, creative people and original thinkers are also effective liars.
Deal with a compulsive liar at work
Compulsive lying is caused by low self-esteem. Lying becomes second nature, and like any behavior which provides comfort and an escape (for instance, alcohol and drugs), lying feels safe and fuels the desire to lie even more.
From the HR’s point of view:
Compulsive lying can be dealt with through therapy or counseling. Like any addictive behavior or personality disorder, getting someone to admit that they have a problem is the most difficult part. Confront them in private, and if possible, record the meeting. This will protect you legally if you decide to terminate the employee. If the lying is severe and impacting, let them know that they cannot continue with their behavior if they want to stay employed with the company. While at the same time, document any complaints received from other employees. You cannot reveal the circumstances surrounding their termination, you can certainly set the record straight and clear up any confusion between your employees.
From a coworker’s point of view:
If the compulsive liar is your coworker, you will want to help them. Do not praise the liar. In fact, hold them accountable for their behavior. Tell them that you are aware of it and it is not acceptable. Try to understand what motivates them to lie, compulsively. Talk to your supervisor if the compulsive liar at work is creating work-related problems. If your direct supervisor is a pathological liar, keep records and seek help from your HR department. Talk to the HR department and see if they can seek professional therapy.