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.

3 Responses

  1. Sheel Jerry

    Pathological liars might be rare, but we all have met one in our lifetime. Each one of us had or have one coworker in the office who never gets well along with others. No one can digest the idea of working with these fellows, knowing that they are going to backstab them anytime. We all have a person in our life, or our office who seems to live in a fantasy world where everything said is either false or exaggerated. As much as it feels bad to say, the fact is, they can’t be trusted at all.

  2. monika

    The better way to deal with them is to hold them accountable for their behavior, and the consequences of their lies. Let them know that you’re aware of their behavior and you won’t accept it.

  3. Lisa

    But if you’re the co-worker and not the boss, do not confront them in private. If at it all possible, make sure you confront them with at least one other trustworthy person present. If you confront them in private, I GUARANTEE you a liar will go behind your back and twist your words to someone who is both powerful and in the dark about the true nature of the liar’s real personality. And guess what? You will be nowhere around to defend yourself, and you will be trashed. How convenient for the liar! If the group confrontation between you and the liar escalates (which it probably will) with the liar digging in her heels while convincingly stating that she absolutely did not do such a thing(!), then you calmly state, “I know what I know. I cannot be swayed by your version of the events.” And then you just have to let the chips fall where they may, even if it means separating from the company. Do you really want to work for bosses who will take a conniving liar’s side over yours?


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