The One Myth That Ruins Relationships

How early do children actually start lying?

We all know that children are perfectly capable of lying to cover up their mischief, but what about to spare someone’s feelings? Doesn’t that come later?

Not exactly.

While we’re young, we start believing a myth: Sometimes you have to lie to keep friends.

And that myth ruins relationships from that point forward.

I didn’t realise just how young this myth began until my son had an idea for an experiment.

The Experiment

Nothing makes a dad prouder than when one of his kids shares his interests. But when my son approached me with his plan for a social science experiment, it didn’t sound like a good idea.

He told me, “I want to put little kids in some uncomfortable circumstances and see how they behave.”

I discouraged him. I told him, “Kids don’t have the same kind of social constraints that adults have.” I assumed these kids were too young to lie for social reasons.

“No, no, no! I know what I want to do — just help me with the experiment!”

Here’s what happened:

We all know adults stink at talking about tough things, but how about little kids?

Here’s my experiment: Feed kids wretched brownies then see if they’ll tell you the truth about them, especially when they think it might hurt your feelings.

First, I make the brownies. Lots of chocolate, eggs, and flour. But instead of sugar, I put in salt… lots of salt!

There’s no way they’d like them better.

Now, I recruit kids of various ages for a taste test. I tell them I want to compare ordinary brownies to my special brownies — my dear grandmother’s special recipe…my dear dead grandmother’s special recipe.

Then I give them a dollar for being such a big help. (My parents always taught me if you want someone to like you, give them money.)

First, they ate the yummy sugar brownies. Next, they eat the salt bricks.

Some of them can hardly keep from gagging.

At the crucial moment, will they tell me the truth and possibly offend me?

I ask them to point to the brownies they like best. Nearly all of them pointed to my brownies — even the one who gagged, and even the little kids!

What did they really think?

“Here guys I have leftovers. Anyone want seconds?”


What an amazing experiment!

What makes it even more amazing is knowing these kids. The girl that nearly gagged is a blunt, outspoken little girl — and she’s lying about the brownies!

Tell the Truth or Keep a Friend?

Watching this experiment, I realised how young we start to believe the myth: You often have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend.

This early-learned myth causes problems for the rest of our lives. It undermines our organisations and families. It causes mischief in all our relationships: personal or business.

Progress in organisations begins the moment we, as leaders, start to help people debunk that myth.

Truth Telling ≠ Losing Friends

Truth does not have to undermine your relationships. In fact, it should do the opposite.

See, crucial conversations are either a pit or a path. They’re either a pit that keeps us stuck and inhibits our capacity to achieve our mission OR a path upward.

Since crucial conversations can become an acceleration of intimacy, don’t work around the truth… work through it. When we find a way to respectfully and candidly discuss our concerns, it becomes a trust-building accelerant. It builds intimacy of an unparallelled nature in organisations, teams, and families.

How Healthy Conversations Better Your Business

Organisations who address these conversations well don’t just do a little better — they exponentially excel in effectiveness, financial, staff strength, and growth.

The willingness and ability to hold crucial conversations is the core of a healthy culture.

If you want a healthier, more successful organisation, identify and begin to work through the three crucial conversations that most affect achievement of your mission. Then, model, teach, coach, and measure how well you’re doing as an organisation.

Based on our research, we know that improving your crucial conversations will affect every other dimension of your organisation rapidly and dramatically.

It’s always the interpersonal dimension, the human connection, that accelerates our growth as human beings. This is about elevating the entire organisation — not just our achievement.

Our research spans many different dimensions. We’ve found that your individual influence, productivity, teamwork, marriage success, diversity, quality, and safety are fundamentally a function of your ability to hold crucial conversations — with your customers, board, colleagues, friends, and family.

The myth that we can’t tell the truth and keep a friend is at the heart of most dysfunction — it’s what keeps us from achieving our potential. Our challenge is to learn to focus on the conversations that matter most so they become a way forward rather than a pit that holds us back.

Latest Blog Posts

Stop Apologising

Have you found yourself in a relationship where you find yourself constantly apologising and feeling like you’re being taken advantage of? Genuinely expressing sorrow and


Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Improve communication, habits, productivity and more with weekly insights and tips from our authors and experts.

Join our 10,000+ community.