Selected lectures on dishonesty and mistrust

In a follow-up to last Friday’s collection of videos on honesty and trust, now the polar opposite, dishonesty and mistrust. It is equally important to understand the motivations behind unethical behaviour as it is to have a view of the reasons for good behaviour. Unsurprisingly, most often these impulses are intimately related. Dishonesty, for example, is encouraged when individuals do not see trustworthiness as an important measure of success or character. On the other side, giving trust is very difficult when credibility has not been established.

  • How to spot a liar (Pamela Meyer) – Lying is not always motivated from a desire to be actively dishonest. It can be automatic, implusive, or even motivated by altruism, insecurity, or curiosity. However, it is always deceptive. Understanding the “tells” that people give when they are being dishonest is important in remaining alert and checking for credibility before giving trust.


  • How to Spot Liars at Work and How to Deal with Them (Carol Kinsey Goman) – Also in the domain of reading people’s non-verbal cues to detect their dishonesty, there are signs specific to the workplace that someone is not trustworthy and dynamics of co-working or being in a team setting that may make people more likely to lie. Identifying when colleagues are lying and understanding why can be a management technique if this is applied to trying to create a tailored environment that will protect and reward honesty. Successful leaders will communicate clearly that they expect their employees to be truthful and will measure honesty and ethical decision-making as part of their performance.


  • The truth about dishonesty (Dan Ariely) – Self-betrayal and the rationalization it provides are major motivators of dishonest behaviour. Intrinsically, people lie and break promises to themselves in every dishonest act they do, because they are overriding their own ideas about right and wrong to give themselves permission to proceed. In this way individuals persuade themselves to ignore their conflicts of interest or flaunt what is socially acceptable because they have deceived themselves into thinking their behaviour is necessary or justified.


  • Why we think it’s OK to cheat and steal (sometimes) (Dan Ariely) – Behavioural economics goes further even than the above, to suggest that people do not always have to actively be dishonest to themselves to be deceptive to others. Possibly, people actually think lying or behaving immorally is acceptable because cultural norms often tolerate and dismiss “minor” dishonesty. Situational context, intuition, or heuristics can be very powerful and override the individual’s obligation to question or consider right from wrong. All opinions about moral behaviour should be thoroughly challenged in order to avoid relying upon false assumptions.


  • The future of lying (Jeff Hancock) – In scenarios such as taking an exam with the opportunity to cheat or filling out a form with the possibility of misstating information, moral reminders of individuals’ legal or social obligations to tell the truth have proven effective in curbing dishonest choices. Could technology and the internet, influences in our society which seemingly have made the truth ever more remote, actually discourage lying by making people’s statements and representations permanent and searchable? Perhaps the accountability of the internet to record everyone’s personal records can encourage them to avoid discrepancies by resisting dishonesty.


Causes of, and rationalizations for, dishonesty and lack of trust are everywhere in both business and life. Because of how common these forces are, it is important to recognize and understand them, so that individuals and organizations may contribute positively to working against their influence.

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