SHOW DATE: OCTOBER 9, 2013
It’s human nature to screw up on the job every once in a while, but it’s how you react when you get busted that will determine if you get fired or promoted.
Kessler International, a research firm, has found that 80% of people mislead their interviewers during a job interview, 25% outright lie on their resume and 49% try to cover up their mistakes while on the job.
Everybody lies at some point in their career; whether those lies are big or small is a relatively minor issue when compared to how you decide to handle them when you’re found out. Will you let the lie accrete until it gets out of control or will you fess up?
To help you decide, allow us to tell you the tale of the two screw ups.
We hired Screw-up #1 to work for us at Forster-Thomas, our college and graduate school admissions consulting company. One of the reasons we brought her on board was that she made it very clear on her resume and interview that she had done college admission essay work for the past ten years.
Five days in with her first client, we found out what Screw-up #1 really meant was that while tutoring kids, they’d sometimes come up and ask her for help with a college essay, meaning she didn’t have formal training with college admission essays. The worst part was, when she was confronted, she tried to make excuses about her experience. Needless to say, her credibility and trust went down the drain.
But it’s one thing to say that you know about college essays and that you’ve worked with them. It’s another matter entirely to be handed a client of your own with a strict deadline and not tell the truth about your experience until only after things start turning sour. Part of her responsibility was having the courage to fess up that she may have overstated her abilities before everything went off the rails.
When you fail to be honest with your employer, you endanger your job and you lose your boss’s good grace. While your boss may yell at you a bit when you tell them you’ve screwed up, ultimately your honesty and willingness to communicate builds trust. Lying does the opposite.
Our office manager—today’s Screw-up #2—was confronted about an important email he didn’t send out. Rather than cover it up, he said he was sorry and asked what he could do to fix it. Auntie Evan yelled at him at first, but after some time, his trust for Screw-up #2 only grew.
It’s this trust and communication that strengthens your relationship with your boss and puts you on the frontlines of a promotion. There is much more value in an employee who is willing to fix his mistakes than one who constantly lies about them and lives in fear of being caught.
Here are a few pointers about being honest on the job:
Stop compounding the lie: Say you forget to send that important client email, and when your boss asks you about it, you lie through your teeth and say you did, in fact, send it because you don’t want to look incompetent. Then you forget to do it again. You’re just compounding that lie and setting yourself up for even bigger problems in the near future. The fact it, you will get found out, and the more the lie builds, the bigger the repercussion.
Put yourself in their shoes: Put yourself in your employer’s shoes. Imagine you’re the president of a major catering company and you’re catering for a wedding. As the bride walks down the aisle and Bartholdy’s “Wedding Marth” plays on the organ, your assistant, your right-hand man, approaches you diffidently and tells you that he forgot to order the liquor. Now he knew this since morning and has only now confessed because he was frightened at what you might say. While several hours earlier the situation could have been remedied by running over to the nearest store and buying the liquor for twice the price, the snafu has now reached the point of no return. The couple is going to request a chunk of their money back, and it’ll be your employees and your company’s reputation that will suffer in the aftermath. Would you give your assistant a slap on the wrist and move on? Or would you take more drastic measures?
Understand that it’s nothing personal—it’s just business: The only way to look at your screw up is from a business perspective. There’s no other way to play the game if you want a successful company. Your employer doesn’t have it out for you, he’s just looking out for the company.
Don’t hope against hope: “To thine own self be true,” writes Shakespeare. Not only do you take away your opportunity to fix the problem when you lie, you subconsciously tell yourself that you can’t handle being wrong. It’s a matter of ego and it’s a matter of closing your eyes and hoping against hope. Instead of being true to yourself, you dig yourself deeper.
Avoid shutting yourself off from help: Don’t shut yourself off from communication because you’re afraid that people won’t like you or think you’re inept. Recall what Screw-up #2 said: he’s sorry he messed up, and how can he fix the situation. Here’s the thing: your employer wants to help you. He wants the best possible results for the company, and that means providing help when you ask for it.
The bottom line is, do your best to tell the truth and keep the agreements you make. Your boss may yell at you a little now, but a little now is better than a lot later. Besides, honesty builds trust, and trust paves the road to a promotion. On the other hand, if the lies continue, it’s going to get to the point where you get fired, and that’s just not worth it when all you have to do is tell the truth.