People Want to See Themselves as Honest

What are the factors that influence people to be more or less honest? This is the key question best-selling author and Duke Professor Dan Ariely asks in his new book The Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves.

It turns out that social scientists have run controlled experiments to find out answers. It isn’t all that complicated to influence honesty.

For example, simply being reminded of ethical standards encourages more honorable behavior. People are less likely to steal or cheat if they’re asked to read the Ten Commandments first, even when they are atheists. Reading or signing an honor code or pledge also minimizes cheating.

People want to be honest and easily respond to moral reminders in situations that may tempt dishonesty. If you change the way people are able to rationalize away their actions, then they become more honest. Without reminders, we get comfortable about rationalizing our behaviors in favor of obtaining desired outcomes by any means.

We are influenced to be more honest in the presence of others who might see or hear us being dishonest. Unless, of course, others are also cheating, in which case, we are influenced towards dishonesty.

With moral reminders and other people, we are less comfortable with misbehaving and cheating. Our fudge factors shrink.

I know from professional experience, working with a leadership coach  greatly influences one’s standards, a coach can serve as a trusted source to talk through dilemmas with. . Having regular conversations with a trusted mentor or colleague encourages moral behaviors simply by virtue of talking over situations.


Creating a Culture of Honesty

When you consider the range of undesirable behaviors in the world from this standpoint –defaulting on promises, cheating on taxes and expense reports, cancelling appointments –honesty and dishonesty are more complex than just rational thinking.

It’s not always possible to have people read or sign a moral pledge. We can, however, influence our colleagues and friends when we communicate the value of doing the right things. And in doing so, we also influence ourselves to act in honest ways.

What’s your opinion on how dishonesty shows up, and in what ways could you do something about it? I’d love to hear from you.


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