For Good Reason: What to do when you need to lie convincingly.

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Lying is unpleasant. Although sometimes necessary. How can you lie convincingly under pressure?

We're taught from a very young age it’s bad to tell a lie.  Yet as we get older we discover lying can be necessary.  To spare someone’s feelings.  To abide by a legal mandate.  Or to respect the privacy of another person.  But lying is uncomfortable and awkward.  So what should you do when you must lie for good reason?

Commandeer the topic.

As Don Draper says, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” Minimize the number of lies you need to tell simply by steering the topic away from the taboo subject.  When you encounter the person you need to lie to, have a few benign conversation starters ready to go in your back pocket.  Then all you need to do if you feel uncomfortable is tap one of them.  It’s helpful to choose a  topic that will get the other person talking about themselves at length. Then you can just sit back, nod, smile, and avoid spilling the beans!

Go easy on the eye contact.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law found that, “liars display more deliberate eye contact than truth-tellers [and] hypothesized that liars seek more eye contact because they want to convince the interviewer that they are telling the truth and want to check whether the interviewer appears to believe them.”  

Although we often encourage our clients to harness the power of sustained eye contact given how effective it is with forging a connection with their audience, when it comes to lying-- convincingly--it seems there actually can be too much of this good thing.


It’s widely known that smiling makes you happier.  Smiling releases feel-good neurotransmitters such as, dopamine and serotonin. These hormones have been known to lower heart rate and blood pressure (which can skyrocket when you’re nervous about having to lie!)  And good news!  You’ll reap the benefit of these happy hormones even if you don’t feel like smiling but show your pearly whites anyway.

Emotionally embrace your need to lie.

Rationally you can understand why it’s necessary to lie but that doesn’t mean you're happy about it.  Or even respect why you have to lie.  For example, let’s say you witness the harassing of your co-worker, Julie, when the aggressor thinks no one else is around.  You bring it to the attention of HR and give a formal statement regarding what you saw.  Until things fully resolve you are legally bound not to speak about the situation to anyone.  Yet with every fiber of your being you want to call out the guilty party in front of everyone in the office.  And then your colleague Ryan, who knows nothing about what’s happened, asks you whether you know why Julie was crying in the bathroom yesterday.  As the feeling of nausea takes hold you must say to Ryan, "I have have no idea."

If you break confidentiality and tell Ryan the truth you could jeopardize the entire investigation and open the possibility of the guilty party escaping punishment.  As well as potentially deny Julie the justice she deserves.  Take a moment to fully embrace the reason it’s important for you to evade the truth.  Sometimes you have to push past your aversion to lying in support of the greater good of the situation.

As you accumulate personal as well as professional experiences you’ll likely find yourself in a position when lying is necessary.  Utilize the steps above in order to remain calm, cool, collected, and convincing in the heat of the moment.