The Root Cause of Lying

by | Jul 1, 2015 | Evaluating Behavior

By the end of an ordinary day you may have been on the receiving end of hundreds of lies.  These lies range from the socially polite and harmless to the vengeful and criminal.  I’ve heard some people express interest in catching every lie they are told.  That doesn’t sound like a healthy desire to me.  Imagine the relationships that would ruin, and how negative your outlook on life would become if you new every single time some one lied to you.  While you are better off not catching every lie, you can certainly benefit professionally and personally by catching some lies.  The key is to determine when to turn your lie catching radar on, and when to keep it turned off.

The biggest benefit doesn’t come from catching the lie.  The biggest benefit comes from accurately determining why your counterpart lied to you. Pinpointing the motivation behind the lie gives you insight into your counterpart’s motivations.  Now you can avoid confronting him on the lie, and use the motivation to lead you to the truth.

There is no shortage of research cataloging the various reasons people lie. In her book Liespotting (and her popular TED Talk) Pamela Meyer outlines nine reasons people lie. She even separated them into offensive and defensive categories.  Dr. Charles Ford at the University of Alabama at Birmingham also published his list of thirteen reasons why people lie. The Internet are full of similar lists.

Are there nine reasons people lie?  Is thirteen the correct number?  Or could there be another answer?

Both authors are likely correct.  I would contend that all their research provided very valuable insights on the way to over complicating the issue.  When you catch a lie in the middle of a negotiation, interview or sales meeting you need to understand why your counterpart lied and adapt your approach almost instantly.  You need to get to the root cause.

The root cause of most lies adults tell is the same – avoiding consequences.  These consequences may be real or perceived, and they may be slight or severe.  People may tell socially polite lies to avoid being perceived as rude, to avoid conflict, or to avoid ruining everyone’s good time.  People may exaggerate a story to avoid seeming uncool, unworthy or unimpressive.  Of course, people may lie to avoid dire consequences, such as prison, termination of employment or divorce.

The reasons people lie are far more important than the lies themselves.   For example, if you are participating in team negotiations and you believe the other side’s lead negotiator lied to avoid seeming weak in front of his peers, you must adjust your strategy to help him appear strong while accepting your offer.

The next time you believe you caught some one lying to you ask yourself “What consequences are they trying to avoid?”

Simply identifying potential lies does not create strategic value.  Strategic value is created when we evaluate everything we see and hear within the context of the situation and accurately determine the motivations behind the lies.  Once we uncover these motivations we can capitalize on them by adjusting our strategies to incorporate them as we work towards our goals.


Michael Reddington, CFI is an executive resource, the president of InQuasive, Inc. and the creator of the Disciplined Listening Method. He teaches leaders from all industries and specialties how to apply strategic, ethical persuasion techniques in all of their conversations. To learn more contact Michael directly at +1 (704) 256-7116 or