5 Times When It’s OK to Lie to Your Boss

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We’re a nation of liars. People tell an average of one or two lies a day, some surveys have found, and 93% of people surveyed by Reader’s Digest in 2004 admitted that they were sometimes dishonest at work. Lies at the office run the gamut from the mostly innocuous (like saying terrible traffic made you late when you really overslept) to the outright criminal (such as fraud and embezzlement).

Whether they’re little white lies or big whoppers, most people agree that lying at work is a bad idea, even if they’re guilty of it themselves. Not only is stretching the truth unethical, but it can do serious damage to your reputation if discovered.

“Promotions — more and more — are based on soft skills as much as the financial metrics,” Dana Manciagli, author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job, told Fast Company. “Your reputation as a high-integrity, ethical, and honest person are keys to your success.”

Still, there are a few times when honesty may not be the best policy. Here are five situations where it may be OK to lie to your boss.


1. When you’re looking for a new job

If you’re on the hunt for a new position, it’s probably best to keep your job search under wraps. A boss who finds out that you have one foot out the door may start taking away your responsibilities or stick you with boring assignments. That may not be a problem if you get a new job right away, but if you end up looking for months, it could make for an uncomfortable situation at work. You’re also likely to be at the top of the “to fire” list if layoffs occur, since higher-ups already know you’re restless.

“What is your boss going to do with information that you are looking for another job but do not yet have an offer? Nothing,” career expert Penelope Trunk wrote in a blog post. “There is nothing to do except stop giving you interesting work. Or fire you.”

2. If he asks how he looks

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When your boss asks how he looks before a big presentation or client meeting, give him a dose of confidence and say he looks great. If he’s in desperate need of a makeover, you can try dropping subtle hints at another time, but unless the problem is really embarrassing and easily fixable (e.g., he has spinach in his teeth), a white lie is acceptable in this case.

“Unless it is really bothering you or you know the person well enough to care about how he or she is being perceived, it’s risky, not to mention potentially not your place,” to criticize any coworker’s appearance, Donna Flagg, founder of The Krysalis Group, a business and management consulting firm, told CNN.


3. If she asks about the real reason you left your last job

Your last boss may have been a total terror and the company may have been ridiculously dysfunctional, but don’t tell your boss that, even if she asks. Gossiping about former employers won’t make you look good, especially if you work in a tight-knit industry. Venting about your last supervisor might even cause your current boss to wonder what you’re saying about her behind her back, which can also strain your relationship. Keep your comments about your last job professional, whatever your true feelings.

4. When he asks if you’re able to take on a new project

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Try to put on a smiling face when an unwanted project lands on your desk. A genuine-sounding “I’m happy to help” will reflect well on you and make your boss think you’re team player, even if you’re annoyed at getting stuck with the extra work. Focusing on the positive aspects of your job can make this fib sound more sincere.

“Try to adjust your mindset to being appreciative about something in your job or that you even have a job, to make the ‘happy’ be sincere. In other words, let your happiness to have a job supersede your unhappiness at having to do any task that comes with it,” Mark Goulston, the author of Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, told AOL Jobs.


5. When she asks what you think of the decision she just made

Generally, once your boss has made a decision, you need to back her up. Even if you disagree with your supervisor’s choice to fire a co-worker or cancel a project, voice your support if she asks you what you think after the fact.

“Don’t criticize a decision after it is made,” Lawrence Polsky, managing partner and executive team coach at PeopleNRG, told Monster. “You can critique an idea before a decision is made, because your ideas can be used. Once a decision has been made, your critique will be seen as negativity.”

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