Why you may be prone to hiring a liar

June 16, 2019

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Why you may be prone to hiring a liar

We all say we don't like liars. But when it comes time to negotiating a big sale, it turns out we tolerate people stretching the truth, and even expect it.

New research finds that the ability to deceive is viewed as a sign of competence in jobs that require selling.

In the study, the researchers found that people don't always disapprove of deception. In fact, they perceive the ability to deceive as an asset in occupations that are stereotyped as high in "selling orientation."

What the researchers say: "Deception, in the form of fraud, embezzling, and corruption, costs the economy a great deal of money and undermines the economy's underlying moral fabric," the lead authors explain. "Companies expose themselves to greater risk by hiring deceivers."

In two pilot studies, the researchers asked participants to rate 32 occupations as "high" or "low" in selling orientation, reflecting the degree to which occupational members persuade others to make immediate purchases as part of their jobs. In four subsequent studies, the researchers homed in on three occupations that are stereotyped as particularly high in selling orientation—sales, investment banking, advertising—and three occupations that participants viewed as relatively low in selling orientation—consulting, nonprofit management, accounting.

The researchers then ran experiments in which participants observed individuals lying or acting honestly in a variety of circumstances (for example, when reporting their expenses after a business trip or when completing an economic game in the laboratory). Finally, participants judged how successful and competent a liar or honest individual would be in occupations that were high or low in selling orientation--and whether to hire them for those occupations.

Among the key findings: Participants believed that liars would be more successful than honest people in high-selling orientation occupations.

Indeed, when participants had the opportunity to hire individuals for jobs that require selling, they were more likely to hire accomplished liars.

"We found that people don't always disapprove of liars," the lead researcher said. "Instead, they think liars are likely to be successful in occupations that require high-pressure selling."

The findings may help to explain why deception persists in certain occupations—recruiters see deceivers as more competent for high-pressure sales roles.

So, what? This is one of those studies which shine an unfortunate light on some facets of modern industry. Previous studies (see past TRs) have found:

  • Boards often tend to choose psychopaths and narcissists as CEOs (15 percent of CEOs are psychopaths, nearly 50 percent are narcissists) because they see them as more aggressive
  • Psychopaths, like liars, are chosen for their sales ability (most psychopaths are liars)
Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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