"He's not in right now." "I am going to the doctor at that time." "I paid only two dollars a unit to your competitor." Whether not true and used to avoid hurting someone's feelings, or whether used to gain an advantage in a negotiation, these little business lies are acceptable because they achieve their intended result without actually hurting the other party. Right?
Wrong – in the long run, even if apparently harmless at the moment. One problem, as demonstrated in so many movie scripts, is that you sometimes need to tell another lie to cover the first, and then another. And small lies turn into habits. And habits define the individual and often the culture of the individual's direct world of influence.
What if you are never caught telling these little business lies? Is there any harm? Sometimes you will never know that you were caught. Someone sees you at another event when you told them you were out of town. Another asks his competitor if they really did sell to the company at such a low price. Someone you told was doing a superb job and was soon fired mentions the comment to his attorney or perhaps just as damning – to former peers still in the company.
It takes only one instance of being caught to cause an entire group of people to question the truthfulness of all of your statements. And that is a large consequence to come from a small business lie.
So, would you tell such white lies if you knew you'd never be caught? Never? That depends upon how you chose to live with yourself. It certainly is difficult to be truthful or silent but never slip into little lies.
For much of my adult life, I have been affiliated as an adult volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America, happily serving youth and adopting the Scout Law as an important part of my ethical being. Of the twelve points of that law, none state "A Scout is truthful" because there is a greater law in Scouting: "A Scout is TRUSTWORTHY." And that is the bottom line for all of us in business. We should strive to be TRUSTWORTHY in our actions and deeds. People can depend on us to be truthful and trusted. A simple lie, caught immediately or much later, belies that trust.
Can you tell little business lies? Sure. But should you?
Dave Berkus is a noted speaker, author and early stage private equity investor. He is acknowledged as one of the most active angel investors in the country, having made and actively participated in over 70 technology investments during the past decade. He currently manages two angel VC funds (Berkus Technology Ventures, LLC and Kodiak Ventures, L.P.), is a partner in Trenchant Ventures, LLC. Dave is past Chairman of the Tech Coast Angels, one of the largest angel networks in the United States. You can read more of his blog posts at Berkonomics.com, where this was originally posted. Dave's most recent book is BASIC BERKONOMICS, which was just released earlier this month.