How to Work with a Chronic Liar

Dealing with a colleague that you know is repeatedly lying to you can be extremely challenging, and often hard to work with. In the third edition of Crucial Conversations, we suggest that there are three kinds of Crucial Conversations, and it’s important to hold the right conversation to address this issue. We refer to these three types of conversations with the acronym CPR—Content, Pattern, Relationship.

The first type of conversation is Content. The content is the immediate pain or problem. When you believe that someone has lied, that’s the content. You should share your facts, share the conclusion, and seek remediation.

The second time it happens, you should move to the “P” in CPR. You must now address the Pattern. The issue is not just about the most recent lie they’ve told, it’s that this has now happened twice. It is becoming a pattern. This calls for a deeper discussion about what is going on and why. The solution you come up with must be a reasonable fix to the pattern, and not just the latest fib.

For example, if the person acknowledges that they have lied to you on two occasions because they were scared to give you bad news publicly, you might agree to let them give you updates in one-on-one meetings, rather than in larger group discussions—provided this doesn’t compromise team integrity.

Assuming a conversation has already been had to address the content and pattern of lying, the focus would shift to the “R” level—this is the Relationship conversation. This is the conversation you need to have when the issue is no longer about a couple of lies, but about some deeply damaged trust. Your view of the other person has now reached a point where it will impact  every interaction you have with them.

This conversation is about resetting expectations in the relationship. Frequently, violated trust leads to termination of the relationship. For example, you might announce that you will leave their team, fire them, divorce them, or separate yourself in other ways.

If you continue to allow this to occur, this can lead to feelings of blame, resentment, and disgust, which are in turn, indications that you are refusing to accept your responsibility for being part of this relationship. When the new lies happen, remind yourself of your choice and of the advantages you prioritised that caused you to remain in your situation.

It’s also critical to set clear boundaries with the other person. This shouldn’t be hard if you’ve already had the content and pattern conversations. If they already know that you are convinced that they have been dishonest with you, the next step is to honestly tell them the measures you will be taking to cope with their dishonesty. For example, “Until I have greater confidence that you will be honest with me, I want you to know that I will be cross-checking your numbers/results/performance/output and confirming your statements with colleagues.”

Be sure you aren’t doing this with a motive to punish or belittle. Reassure them that this is not the reality you want. Your motive is to simply be transparent so they can understand the natural consequences of their past choices and potentially feel motivated to make other choices in the future. For example, “I don’t want it to be this way. My preference is to take everything you say on face value. If you’re willing to work on restoring my trust, I will do my part to be open to a fresh start as well.”

It is our universal lot in life to learn to work with imperfect people—people just like you and me. I hope this helps you do so in a way that demonstrates your own integrity, and that invites others to grow with you.

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