Lies I’ve Told (and Sold)

Can you succeed in business—or life—without telling the truth?

Let’s not run from the fact that most people think our business is full of liars. Let’s not laugh it off, shrug it off or deny it any longer.

I’ll start by telling you eight lies I told this past week. Maybe you can follow along and compare how you did.

1. “That’s great.” I must have said this in countless variations when I really wanted to say, “Oh please, no, that scares the crap out of me.” Or, more to the point, “I can’t stand this any longer. Leave now and never return.”

2. “We’re working on a lot of really interesting project possibilities right now.” A favorite to potential hires, vendors and people who think we’re something we’re not. The truth is usually more like, “We’re bugging the shit out of a few clients we’d love to do great work, er, um, make money from.”

3. “There are [x] people here.” Did I count freelancers and interns? Do we think telling people we’re a certain size will make people trust us more? Get us more work? Make us feel like bigger big shots?

4. “I’m really busy.” Yeah, busy looking at Flash cartoons, my Manchester United Web sites, political and music sites, reading books, looking out of the window, playing a dumbek, daydreaming. This is one of the knee-jerk-response lies of all time. We dare not be lazy at times, or innocently fallow, because nobody would understand or trust us or like us anymore.

5. “Yeah, I’ve heard of that band.” I’m 43, he’s 22. Damn, at least I think I read their name on a flier somewhere.

6. “I’ll be out of here in 20 minutes.” See Lie No. 4.

7. “We refuse to work with clients who don’t fit our moral and ethical requirements.” Well, actually, this one isn’t a lie, but I’m always worried we’ll compromise it when the next call comes in.

8. “I’m fine. Oh, I’m great.” The truth is, “I’m nervously waiting for a return phone call from a client prospect, I need to eat something, and in general, I’m afraid about the future.” This is a big one. Most of us never have the courage to answer that simple “How are you/ how are things?” question with the truth. And I believe it’s our sore spots, our fears and weaknesses, that truly connect us all.

Were there more? You betcha. But the purpose of this column is to wake us all up to the fact that changing perception without changing the reality behind the veil is so futile, empty and soulless. You can’t go through life, be a part of any relationship or sweat your way through an advertising career wearing a mask and expect anyone to really love you when they don’t really know you.

Maybe it’s true that everyone, everywhere lies to themselves or to the world, especially when money’s on the table. All I know is that if you’re in the business of creating trust between you and a client, between you and your agency and between your work, your company and the public, that trust can’t stand on lies. The surveys and polls are blindingly spot-on about this.

So, do these thoughts echo in you because you’re open and empty enough to consider them? Or am I acting as a mirror, so you can see something about yourself you’ve never thought about before?

I’m using myself as the guinea pig here because I’m taking this issue quite seriously in my own life. My greatest hope is that we can all become better people. Then become better businesspeople. Then become better advertising/marketing people.

How? As I see it, it all comes down to you and I conquering the almighty fear of rejection.

So allow me to suggest an experiment (pardon the self-promotional verbiage): Try going a week, a day or even an hour telling the absolute truth as kindly and compassionately as you can. To everyone, starting with yourself.

Or at least, start keeping track of the lies.

Let me know how you do.