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12 Nov 2012

Pressure Increases Dishonesty

It’s more difficult for humans to be honest than we might have thought. Thus, we need to find ways to encourage them to be honest with us. The article, “Time to be Honest” (The Economist, March 31, 2012 edition), discusses the paper by Shaul Shalvi, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, and his colleagues, Ori Eldar and Yoella Bereby-Meyer of Ben-Gurion University in which one way is to give people time:

Under time pressure, regardless of whether they could find private justifications for their lies, people lied more than when deliberation was possible (see paper’s conclusion).

In fact, they even suggest that lying is more natural than being honest:

Here we found that faced with temptations, peoples’ automatic tendency is to lie (see paper’s conclusion).

By giving people time to decide and act, they are more inclined to be honest. While it’s important that justifications for lying don’t exist, even if they do exist we can reduce the likelihood of lying by giving people time. This dark side of human character is similar to what we saw with creativity: people are less creative in a pressured, fearful environment. In terms of honesty, such an environment becomes justification for lying (i.e. “they don’t really care about me or what I think”).

Granted, businesses can’t avoid operating in some form of urgency at times; however, there is a cost: lying spawns incorrect information. Decisions based on this information wastes time, increasing the likelihood of further time pressures, more dishonesty. As a result, the problem becomes chronic and grows, either retarding the business’ growth or accelerating its decline.

The point is this: managers can manage honesty. It’s not solely dependent upon the character of people they hire.


Related post: Lying About Honesty


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