How to Tell When Your Boss Is Lying (and What to Do About It)

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A toxic boss can make your work life difficult and affect your mental health. Working for someone who has a hard time being open with you or who lies outright about work-related issues big and small can either leave you constantly on edge or completely surprised when something goes wrong, such as an unexpected mass layoff.

There is no real science in reading body language or interpreting verbal cues that show someone is lying. But there are behavior in the workplace and management tactics that might indicate your boss is withholding information or trying to hide the truth, and perhaps you should be curious and wary of what’s going on behind the scenes.

Here are a few signs that something is fishy with your boss:

  • You use non-binding or vague language. When your boss doesn’t take responsibility for things — using the royal “we” instead of “I” — or refuses to be specific about schedules and action items, he may be dodging the truth. For example, if you ask about the procedure for a promotion and you reply, “We’ll take care of it.” Likewise, words and phrases like “probably” or “as far as I know” can indicate avoidance.
  • They never communicate in writing. Difficult conversations are often good to have face-to-face, but if your boss refuses to make promises or claims via email, Slack, or other written communication, especially when asked, he may be trying to take responsibility to avoid for his answers.
  • You give conflicting information. Bosses who say one thing to you and another to your colleague, or who give conflicting information across teams, may be intentionally misleading or simply unable to keep their cover up clear.
  • You give irrelevant feedback. Part of your boss’ job is to provide feedback to support your growth. Not all managers are good at this skill, and in most cases this does not indicate that they are lying. But if your boss refuses to get specific or gives feedback that seems to apply to someone else, they may be avoiding a tough conversation.
  • They ask you not to share things with your colleagues. There are probably some scenarios where you should keep difficult workplace news or sensitive information to yourself, but if your boss is constantly asking you to keep secrets from your co-workers, they might be trying to hide something.
  • They avoid meeting with teams. Bosses who refuse to meet with larger groups, even when desired or necessary, and instead hold a series of one-on-one meetings, may be trying to avoid difficult conversations and confrontations where numbers matter.

How to deal with lies in the workplace

Keep in mind that none of the above is a 100% guarantee of anything. It’s possible that your boss is just a bad manager or communicator, or that his actions have everything to do with him and nothing to do with you. Or maybe this behavior is just their norm.

When it is clear that your boss is lying to you and the consequences are possible criminal nature, you should get out as soon as possible – and perhaps consult a lawyer. Otherwise, there are both reactive and proactive approaches to dealing with fraud. in the an article for the Harvard Business Review, author and consultant Pamela Meyer suggests starting with a cost-benefit analysis. Is it worth the potential consequences of confronting the lie with your boss, her boss, or HR?

If you want to respond, first consider your boss’s motivation for lying, and then approach them with curiosity rather than accusations. It may be that their intentions were good even when their tactics were not, and you can provide clarity by agreeing with them when in doubt.

To prevent patterns of cheating from the start, Meyer recommends building strong workplace relationships that pay attention to detail and follow up. If you notice any fraudulent communication or behavioral patterns, document them.

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