What upsets me is not that you lied to me, but that I can no longer believe in you. – Friedrich Nietzsche
No. It is never okay to lie at work.
But you have to understand that, while telling the truth is vital to establishing trust, truth-telling has to be tempered with skill, tact, and good judgment. Truth without respect is not truth at all. It’s brutality. The kind of truth when your four-year old says you look fat in a bathing suit lacks maturity and sensitivity. You expect that from a four-year old, but not a forty-year old.
Sometimes we need to withhold information or temper the truth with discretion because we deem it best for the greater good or for the good of the person on the receiving end.
In “The Speed of Trust,” Stephen Covey tells a story about his father in a clothing store in Canada. As he was considering the cost of purchasing a fairly expensive coat, he mentioned that he would have to add to the duty tax that would be imposed when he returned to the U.S:
“Don’t worry about the duty,” the store manager said. “Just wear it! Then you won’t have to pay the tax.”
“But I have to declare the things I’ve bought and am bringing into the country,” my father explained.
“Don’t declare it; just wear it,” the manager said once again. “Don’t worry about the tax.”
My father was silent for a moment, and then said, “Look, frankly I’m not as worried about having to pay the tax as I am about that new salesperson you’re training. He’s learning from you. What is he going to think when you sign his commission? What kind of trust is he going to have in you in guiding his career?”
So… if you want to build trust, good will, and respect in the workplace, it’s never okay to lie.