“The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.” – Cervantes, Don Quixote
It isn’t all that uncommon to find yourself bending the truth. People do it all the time. Sometimes it’s to spare someone else from feeling uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s to give ourselves an escape from consequences we know we’ll encounter if we tell the truth. But guess what? The truth will eventually come out, no matter how hard we try to avoid it.
There’s something universally appealing in this, although few would actually admit it. We don’t want to be regarded as liars — even though we sometimes fall into that category. The idea that our little obfuscations or outright tall tales come back to haunt us isn’t particularly attractive. The fact that we work so hard to skirt the truth — knowing full well that it’s wrong — means we’ve got some self-improvement that we need to tend to.
Think of the biggest lies in history and how they eventually were unmasked. The world is flat was debunked. Men are superior was called into question. “I’ll call you” is universally discredited. Big lie or little, as Shakespeare’s quote in “The Merchant of Venice” so aptly reveals — “the truth will out.”
If you accept that truth has more value than lies, and acknowledge that it’s going to come out anyway, how do you begin to cultivate the habit of telling the truth from the start? Is this something you can teach yourself to do — after years of doing just the opposite?
Actually, you can and here’s how.
- Pause and think
Before you respond to a question, embark on telling a story, fill out an employment application, or apply for a loan, pause and think what you’re about to reveal. The first thought that pops into your head may be a lie — or it could be the truth, which you quickly push aside. You’ll know whether it’s true or false. Being able to identify what the thought is qualifies you to make the choice of what to do next. You need the time to figure out what you’re going to say or do.
- Prepare truthful answers
Think of answers that are truths you’re willing to say ahead of time so you’re not stumped when you need to say something. For example, if you’re going to a job interview and you want to appear your best. You know you’ll be asked about your strengths and your accomplishments. Instead of saying you saved your previous employer $100,000 by uncovering duplicate projects — when you really only observed someone else doing that — if it’s true you were part of a team that streamlined corporate projects to maximize efficiency, say that instead. If you’re not particularly innovative, talk up how you’re a hard worker that supports team efforts. If you take the time to realize your strengths, you’ll be able to come up with talking points that are true, not false.
- If you’re uncomfortable, ask for a break
Maybe the truth you tell now would cause harm, make someone unhappy, or result in you getting fired. Instead of instantly incriminating yourself, ask for a break — literally. You need some time to frame the truth so that it’s less harmful, or to summon your resources if the blowback will be serious. It’s better to say nothing than to blow it completely by telling a lie that will come back to bite you.
- Work on your values
Learning to tell the truth instead of spouting lies every time you open your mouth takes patience, time, and practice. Begin by addressing your core values, identifying them, and striving to live in accordance with them. If you value friendship, act like a true friend. If you prize family above all else, put your family ahead of everything else you do. Be the person you most admire. Adopt the traits of people you respect.
- Ask for help
No doubt there are people in your life who are familiar with your tendency to embroider the truth. Ask for their help in supporting your truth-telling quest. Have your network of close friends and loved ones call you out when they recognize you’re telling a fib. This might smart a bit, but you need this type of supportive assistance to change your behavior.