Saturday December 2nd, 2006
The workplace is a liar's paradise. It's where backstabbing is rife and where the chances of promotion or a payrise are based on everyone's ability to suck up to the boss. Christmas brings its own opportunities for deceit. Take the ritual of Secret Santa as an example. For those who haven't come across this particular trial, the idea is that everyone picks out a name from a hat and that is who they have to buy a present for. A sum to spend is usually agreed beforehand.
In my time I have received a Destiny's Child calendar, a stick of rock, novelty socks, ties, underpants and another calendar featuring Britain's glorious waterways. I usually lied about how much I appreciated the present and dropped it off at the local charity shop.
Being a fairly typical bloke (that is, anything for an easy life), I always gave chocolates; this way, I figured it was a safe bet and Thorntons always saved me time by wrapping them. This worked until I was tartly informed by the partner of the receiver that he was allergic to chocolate and that I was a thoughtless git. I have since resorted to giving charity vouchers in the hope that this won't offend anyone.
Working as a buyer for a retailer which had dominance in its market, I was a powerful force in that particular industry. At Christmas I would clock up several hampers, many bottles of booze and other sundry gifts, nearly all of which went into the office Christmas raffle, although I did pocket the odd wine voucher (easily portable). I never understood why the suppliers bought me presents, I can't think of one order that it actually influenced; maybe they thought the effect was subliminal?
Bizarrely, in the season of supposed goodwill to all, Christmas - more than any other - is a time when a lot of lies are told. We fib about how much we like our presents, tell lies to our partners about what happened at the office Christmas party and to our families to keep the peace. White lies, I believe, are fine - they enable us to avoid hurting people's feelings and generally grease the wheels in life.
We all lie. But we get very annoyed when we are lied to, even when it was a necessary deception. It's only when we over-elaborate our lies that they can get out of hand. Think about the effect on work and businesses if we only told the truth and no lies were allowed.
Share prices would have to reflect this new honesty, companies would have to be realistic in their forecasts, budgets couldn't be fudged and targets would have to be achievable. It's debatable whether the stock market could exist without the rumour mill that fuels it; there would be no gossip, false tips, insider dealing or scandal.
Biz-speak and management cliches would disappear as we would have to be truthful in our intentions, so "re-engineering" would really mean "job cuts", "win-win" situations would have to exist, "low-hanging fruit" would apply to real fruit that is easy to pick, the customer would really have to be right and staff would have to be "empowered".
Job ads would have to be honest, too. So, instead of "great communication skills" you would have "no one is talking to each other and we need you to mediate", instead of having "opportunities" you would have "we need you to clear up the mess we've made" and "proven track record" would end up as "successful before? Maybe it will rub off on us too."
With no sales pitches, no PR, no tabloid journalism and only honest advertising there would be no end to the tedium. Life would be boring, normal social interaction, commerce and trade couldn't function as we know it and any society that existed would be heartless. We would all be crushed under the massive weight of honesty that you only really see from the likes of Simon Cowell when judging candidates on The X Factor.
Business leaders, forced to tell the truth would have to admit their mistakes, but if only truly honest men ran companies nothing would get done; lying is so intrinsic to good leadership.
The upshot is that we need lies in business to function, but they have to be white lies or fibs. Bullshit, malice, greed and especially self-deception can cause untold damage to a company and the people involved.
The medieval philosopher monk St Thomas Aquinas divided lying into three types: the useful, the humorous and the malicious. He classed the first two as "venial sins"; in other words, lies that are told to help, in ignorance or for fun. They may involve a "temporary fall from grace", but are thought harmless, providing the liar repents.
The third type is a "mortal sin". This is a "grave matter" and one that involves full knowledge and is com mitted deliberately. This means that if you don't repent properly before you die, you're in for it come judgment day. These days, religion and good moral behaviour rarely come into the workplace; they are forgotten at the office door. And Christmas? Well it's often just part of the battle.
Are you a corporate liar? Take our quiz
1. Have you ever blamed someone else for a mistake that you made?
One point for yes, 0 points for no, and five points if you have never made a mistake.
2. Have you ever manipulated figures to make yourself look good?
One point for yes, 0 for no, five points if you've never even considered it.
3. In a meeting or public forum, have you ever asked a question knowing that the answer will make you look good?
One point for yes, 0 for no.
4. Would you change your clothes, your hair, the way you speak, or how you spend your leisure time in the hope that your prospects will improve?
0 points if you don't care; one point for clothes and appearance, two points for taking on new leisure pursuits; five points for changing your voice
5. Ever flattered your boss unnecessarily?
0 points if you hate your boss, one point for each of the following: "You look good, working out?", 'Have you lost weight?", "That colour really suits you"; three points if you've ever read an author they like, watched their favourite film or bought a CD just to impress them; five points if you have ever told your boss they are the best boss you have ever had ... even if you meant it.
6. Ever claimed credit for others' work?
One point for yes, 0 for no
7. Have you ever created a problem knowing that you will look good when it becomes apparent that you were the only one who had the brains to solve it?
Three points for yes, 0 for no
8. Do you copy "important" people in on emails, knowing that if they read them they will be impressed? Do you put your name at the bottom of reports?
One point for each yes, 0 for no
9. Have you ever planned to "bump" into your boss or other senior colleagues?
One point for yes, 0 for no
10. Do you walk around holding papers or files to look busier than you really are?
One point for yes, 0 points for no, but five points if the files are stamped "for CEO's eyes only".
You are not a liar and liable to be taken advantage of others. Alternatively you may be lying to yourself about your scores.
You're capable of dishonesty but haven't got the talent for it. Watch out!
You're well on the way to becoming a corporate cheat; your colleagues probably hate you - are you prepared for their backstabbing ways?
You are a cheat and scheming liar capable of anything, your scapegoats are in doubtless in place.
The Guardian article can be read online here >>
November 16th 2006
Ever feel like you've been cheated? Well, the Diary does - and with good reason.
According to author Graham Edmonds, we are "living and working in the golden age of bullshit" and "being constantly bombarded with lies, fakery and spin".
He explains how we are being taken advantage of in his new tome, entitled Liar's Paradise: The Seven Degrees of Corporate Deceit.
Edmonds has other titles under his belt, including the wonderful Liar's Paradise, the Diary's favourite office read, which does exactly what it says on the cover and turns dull meetings into altogether more enjoyable affairs.
The author is obviously not taken with management speak and in his latest book, out next month, he explains how lying is used at every level at work and how damaging it can be.
The blurb also makes the worrying claim that "there's a bullshitter sitting near your desk, in your office."
Fortunately, everyone who sits near the Diary says that's not true.
A more cynical soul than the Diary might suggest Edmonds' book could become a must read for marketers, or the perfect Christmas gift for the boss who has everything.
The Marketing Week article can be read online here >>
Publishers Weekly Online Review
March 10 2008
Tell more white lies — that’s the message of this humorous and quirky treatise about dishonesty in the workplace. Lying, Edmond claims, 'will make the world a happier place, people will think better of you and you will think better of yourself.' Throughout this UK import — peppered with appealing British tics, surprising statistics and the varying categories of liars—the author pushes the premise that offices are hubs of deception 'where facts are not facts and the truth is obscured.' The key, according to Edmonds, is to know how to function in this fraudulent environment, tell the right kinds of lies, and spot the liars around you. Edmonds bolsters his case with references to everyone from Saint Augustine to Kant, pointing to historical examples of lying and reminding us of some basic truths: nearly everyone lies at least twice a day, fakes something on their resume or pilfers pens from the office-supply closet. Much of this is stuff any workplace drone already knows; of course meetings are good time-wasters and multi-bulleted Powerpoint presentations often conceal complete inadequacy. But for that it’s no less an enjoyable read; at the very least, Edmonds (Bullshit Bingo) reminds cubicle-dwellers that they’re not alone and can survive their morally gray purgatory.