Brian Williams' $5 Million Fib: 4 Little Lies that Can Cost You Your Job


It was a $5 million fib. Maybe even more expensive than that. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams' war story tall tale cost him six months pay, and considering his freshly signed five-year, $50 million contract, that's an expensive white lie. The fact is, he's likely never to return to the anchor desk at NBC, so his out-of-pocket penalty could be much larger.

He fell into a surprisingly easy trap: stretching the truth so far as to finally reach the breaking point. It's something celebrities tend to do often — start believing their own press hype. But we're all prone to tell a "harmless" little falsehood now and then. Your baby is so cute! No, those pants don't make your butt look big. The check is in the mail. We all know the routine.

And it's something we do at work, too. Well, we can't be brutally honest at all costs and there is a certain amount of gamesmanship in being gainfully employed, right? We're not really going to tell our boss she's gained a few pounds, are we? But little lies can compound over time — as Brian Williams well knows — and can take on a life of their own, if we're not careful. Here are six workplace white lies to avoid.

Taking Credit for Something You Didn't Do

You think people won't find out but they will. One survey noted the most frequent workplace lie involves using deception to discredit other employees while attempting to make themselves look better to the organization. Brian Williams was "taking credit" for risking life and limb on a helicopter in a war zone. Certainly without meaning to he may have, to some small degree, discredited members of the military — often in harm's way — who took offense with his "faulty memory."

Lying on a Resume

In a survey conducted last year by Career Builder, 58% of hiring managers said they've caught a lie on a resume. And in an increasingly competitive job market, the problem is getting worse. One-third (33%) of those same employers said they've seen an increase in resume embellishments since the recession.

It's not just about lying about the length of employment or education, either. One applicant claimed to have 25 years of experience — at the age of 32! Whoops. Half of employers surveyed (51%) said that they would automatically dismiss a candidate if they caught a lie on their resume.

Professing Competence in Something You Know Little About

It might start out with, "Sure, I know how to use QuickBooks," and end up being "...Well, I thought I could figure it out." That same Career Builder survey said it was one of the most common resume lies — "embellished skill set" — committed by 57% of those seeking to stretch the truth on their applications. And again, over half of employers surveyed saw resume fibs as grounds for dismissal.

Make Promises You Can't — Or Don't Intend — To Keep

As customers, we've often been on the receiving end of this white lie. "Your table will be ready in five minutes." Thirty minutes later, we're still waiting — hungry and irritable. Sales training professionals often preach a mantra of "under promise and over deliver" to trainees, looking to build a culture of surprising customers, in a good way.

And one final thought about lying — non-work related. A recent survey said that seven million Americans lie to their spouse or significant other about matters of money. In fact, one-quarter of adults under 30 admitted to being less than honest with the one they love about debt, spending, hidden accounts, or other financial falsehoods. Being open and honest about money is important in a relationship.

Losing a love is much worse than losing a job.

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