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Lying is to Trust as Kryptonite is to Superman

That may sound self-evident. But lying isn’t the only way to kill trust. It’s useful to review the bidding, in order to realize just how potent lying is.

Then too, there are green kryptonite and red kryptonite forms of lying.

Read on.

Four Ways to Destroy Trust

Using the trust equation as a checklist suggests at least four generic ways to destroy someone’s trust in you:

  • Develop an erratic track record. That leads to a reputation for being flakey, undependable, that you can’t be counted on. Soon enough you’re losing the big jobs, then the little ones. All because you’re unreliable.
  • Abuse others’ confidences. Develop loose lips. Tell secrets. Make hay on inside information. Laugh at others’ misfortunes, or just be emotionally tone-deaf. The invitations will stop soon enough.
  • Use others for your own ends. Do unto others before they do unto you. Always be closing. Find the competitive advantage at every turn. Don’t let your guard down, and don’t be a chump. It’s better to receive than to give.
  • Put distance between yourself and the truth. There are white lies, bald-faced lies, lies of omission, half-truths, partial truths, packs of lies, and lies of convenience. They’re all kryptonite.

Which is the worst?  It’s hardly a walk-away, but I say the last one–lying.

Cold, Flat-Out, Straight-up Lies

Robert Whipple told me of the experience of being lied to, to his face, with full eye contact. That degree of trust destruction is strong enough to take effect instantly. Let’s examine why.

Obviously, if someone lies to you, you can’t believe what they’ve told you. Which means the next thing they tell you has to be suspect as well. Being lied to immediately ruins the speaker’s credibility.

But that’s just a start. Lying also infects reliability. Because if you tell me you’ll do something, but you’ve lied to me before, then I don’t know if I can trust you’ll do what you’ve said you’ll do.

Lying also affects intimacy and confidences. If you’ve lied to me, your motives are suspect. I’m not about to share confidential information with someone who’s been dishonest with me about their motives.

Finally, that same issue of motives makes me profoundly suspicious of your intentions. We do not assume people have lied to us for our own good, but rather for their good. And we do not like that.

Green and Red Kryptonite Lies

As is well known, krytponite of all forms is debilitating or lethal to Superman, but red kryptonite is more harmful. To extend the metaphor, which is more lethal to trust: a bald-faced lie, or a series of veiled, half-truths? I suggest that the latter is worse.

A flat out lie has two elements of truth: transparency and completeness. It’s all out there, right away. When Shaggy sings It Wasn’t Me, it’s such an in-your-face lie you have to laugh. The band-aid is ripped off the scab all at once. If you trust after that, it’s entirely your own fault. That’s green kryptonite.

Then there’s the really bad stuff – red kryptonite lying.

Red kryptonite lying consists of half-truths, incomplete truths, truths not told at the right time. It is often justified on the grounds that it isn’t green kryptonite: “I didn’t actually say anything that wasn’t true.”

Red kryptonite lying is riddled with layers of bad faith. It leaves the receiver with nagging doubt. Why did he not tell me the whole truth? Why did she not bring this to my attention earlier? What about all the other questions this raises?

One trouble with red kryptonite truth is the nagging doubt it leaves you with – the lack of resolution about the issue at hand.

But perhaps the worst nagging doubt is about the nature of the liar himself. Is the liar incompetent? Or is he dishonest? Does the liar even know the difference? Finally – does the liar even know he is lying?

It is sometimes said that the best salespeople are those who can first sell themselves. Indeed, some high-selling salespeople have that ability; but I wouldn’t trust them.

1 reply
  1. John
    John says:

    Great post, Charles. Very applicable to business. Sometimes people think that a white lie in order to sell something won’t hurt their business, but building long-term trustworthy relationships with customers is a lot more important and definitely pays off.

    John

    Reply

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