By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. I've noticed a lot of people in my workplace seem to play it fast and loose with the truth. They often cover up their mistakes and play up their strengths. My coworker says this is marketing, I think it is lying. Who is right?
A. Both of you are right. The public relations idea of "spin" on truth has become accepted and customary. You may strongly disagree and be angered by how unpopular truth has become, but your outrage does not change the workplace.
Many people I've coached have spent years of their career fighting windmills like a passionate version of office Don Quixote. These same people come to me burned out, discouraged and bitter.
In a long career, we will meet with many realities we do not approve of or like. Our choice is whether to be effective within the constraints of these realities or to knock ourselves out expecting reality will finally conform to our expectations.
Gender differences often play a role in how comfortable a person is with using "spin" at work. Men more often than women consider amplifying successes as "marketing." Women tend to see these same conversations as outright lying. Do note that men generally still earn a dollar for every 70 cents women make at the same job.
"Spin" has become so commonplace there is a math people do when they hear your professional biography. The math goes like this: Listen to what people say they've done, cut it in half, and you're pretty close to the truth. What this means is that if you always tell an unvarnished story about your achievements, people cut this in half, and you look fairly unimpressive.
Now, before you send me outraged emails about truth, justice and the American way, let me make it clear I am not recommending that you either spin your history with embellishments or provide just the facts. Clearly, your own peace of mind needs to come first. Realize that whatever you choose there are simply tradeoffs between spin, money and opportunity.
If you do chose to vent by sending me an outraged email, be aware I am flattered by my readers' perception of my influence over the business world. However, I have no power to change the popularity of spin. Instead, my column is about working with business as it is, not as we wish it should be.
There is a huge difference between confidently stating what you believe you can do and lying about having attended Harvard. Outright lying on your resume, in an interview or on the job will catch up with you.
If, however, you are asked in an interview whether you can do a project, you are not lying to say, "Absolutely!" You can then worry about your inadequacy after you get the job. Most professionals who love their jobs have repeatedly taken on more than they thought they could do and surprised themselves by finding they could do it!
There is also a difference between choosing not to disclose one mistake and not disclosing a pattern of problems. If you make one mistake, learn from it and don't repeat it. If you repeatedly make the same mistakes, don't take a job which requires these skills.
You have every right to put your best foot forward when it comes to being hired and promoted. Just make certain that foot doesn't "spin" right into your mouth if you can't deliver what you promised.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). Contact her at www.interpersonaledge.com
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This was printed in the April 21, 2013 - May 4, 2013 Edition