Lying is considered a bad thing, but ask anyone to justify a lie they’ve told and they probably can. When and where you should lie is your call, but if you have to do it, here’s how to do it effectively.
This classic post has been republished is part of our Evil Week series at Lifehacker, where we look at the dark side of getting things done. Knowing evil means knowing how to beat it, so you can use your sinister powers for good. Want more? Check out our evil week tag page.
It’s worth noting that lying to people is generally a bad thing to do. Please do not take this advice verbatim. Instead, use it as a guide to spot liars in your day-to-day interactions and protect yourself. Such is the goal of Evil Week. That said, honesty isn’t necessarily the best policy. While we don’t want to encourage you to lie, should you find yourself in a situation (unlike the ones mentioned here) where you believe lying is the right thing to do, this may help. And if you have a problem with lying, there’s always classic misdirection.
Lies of All Shapes and Sizes
The sorts of lies you tell have an impact on their difficulty, but a small white lie can require as much upkeep as a hefty one. Telling your grandmother you enjoyed eating the Spanish tongue she prepared for your birthday is the sort of lie that’s going to keep portions of Spanish tongue coming your way until Grandma’s in a nursing home. Even then, you’ll still be reminiscing about her deliciously prepared tongue with each visit. Okay, so this isn’t the likeliest of scenarios but hopefully the point is clear: when you tell someone you like something to spare their feelings, it requires a lot of upkeep.
Upkeep can be really difficult because it requires having a good memory. If you make one little white lie once in your life, you can probably remember what you said. Most of us have lied more than once, and we’re inevitably caught because we can’t keep track of everything. What we said to one person (or many people) conflicts with the reality we’ve stored in our memory and so we have to actively work to remember and utilize that lie every single time we need it. With multiple lies floating around, it’s easy to get caught.
Managing Your Lies
The easiest way to manage lies is keep them to a minimum. The fewer you tell the less work you have to do to manage them. If you’re going to lie, use them wisely. The more you lie the greater your chances of getting caught. Still, all lies require work and you need a means of managing them regardless of how many you’ve put out into the world. The key is to add truth to the lie so it’s tied to something honest. This makes lies easier to remember because it’s tied to actual memory and more believable because you’re also telling the truth. For example, if you broke a vase because you threw a tennis ball in the house while playing with your dog and you’d prefer to blame the dog, you can easily use what happened to shift the blame. Instead of admitting to throwing the tennis ball in the house, you can instead say this: you were playing with the dog, you set the ball on the counter when you were finished, the dog—still playful—went after the ball and knocked over the vase in the process. The core of the lie and the truth is the same: the tennis ball ultimately led to the vase’s demise. So long as you’re still using the core truth in your lie, the details can be easily replaced. You may find that after a good amount of time has passed you’ll actually remember the lie and forget what really happened.
Avoid Excuses When Possible
All of that said, excuses rarely help when you offer them up. Staying calm and keeping it simple is your best bet. While you don’t want to hide from the problem, you also do not want to launch into a detailed explanation of what happened in fear of being caught. Have a detailed lie planned out, but only use the pieces you need. Normal human interaction doesn’t involve laying out every detail. When you talk about something in most situations, you say what you need to say and move on. Lies should follow that same strategy of normal behavior. It’s hard to prove someone’s a liar, in most cases, because evidence isn’t conveniently available to the target of the lie. Liars are more often discovered because they exhibit abnormal behavior when lying. Such a shift from normal behavior makes people very suspicious.
Do Things Liars Don’t Do
Lying is easy, but acting like you’re honest is a bit more difficult. Honest people are responsible. They admit to their mistakes and bad behavior. They apologize. You need to act like an honest person if you’re going to lie effectively. Going back to the example of the vase, the dog, and the tennis ball, expressing an apology to the owner of the vase can make your lie more effective. Essentially, in that situation, you’re apologizing for the dog and not yourself. The fact that you’re expressing guilt for something you’re claiming you didn’t do often engenders sympathy and will help the target of the lie come to the conclusion that it wasn’t your fault. As an added bonus, if you really are feeling guilty it gives you an opportunity to genuinely express that—even if it’s wrapped in a thick layer of BS.
Closeness Is Key
Lying inherently causes us to keep our distance from people. We often don’t notice the body language and signals we exhibit, but our tendencies lean towards backing off when we’re uncomfortable. Lying makes most people uncomfortable, so you want to make sure you don’t keep your distance. Again, this goes to acting normal. If applicable, don’t be afraid to use physical touch when lying. If you’re with a good friend or someone you’re romantically involved with, chances are you normally touch them in your general interactions. When it makes sense, do what you’d normally do. You don’t want to go for a random, awkward hug, but be sure to keep closeness and touch in mind for when you can use it appropriately.
All of that said, here’s the real takeaway: lying is a lot of work. You can often save yourself a lot of time, stress, and heartache by just telling the truth. Sometimes it sucks to be honest, and you’ll probably find yourself engaged in more conflict, but ultimately you’ll be able to handle that conflict better. So long as you’re not making any really terrible mistakes, being honest about yourself and what you do will make your life a lot easier. This goes beyond owning up to a broken vase, but to being forthcoming about who you are, what you love, and what’s important to you. The less you conceal and hide, the better things can get.