(TNS)—Q: I have a young employee on my team who’s a good worker, but I recently caught him in a lie. No harm was done, but now I don’t know if I can trust him. How should I handle this?
A: Be straightforward about your expectations, and clear about possible consequences as he rebuilds trust.
The Inner Game
What was he thinking? That’s the first thing to understand, if you can. Consider the factors that may have led to the lie, as this could affect your assessment of the gravity of the offense. For example, was it deliberate? I’m assuming so, as you characterized it as a lie, which implies intent, rather than an error.
Also consider if he was nervous to tell you the truth. While that’s not an acceptable reason to lie, it may be an opportunity to help him adapt better to the workplace. It also may be a reflection on your management style; if you have an intimidating demeanor, it may have unintended consequences.
Think about whether it’s worth making a big deal about it. This comes down to assessing if it was an indicator of character. Try thinking about whether there are other times when you know he’s been honest when it may have been difficult; for example, if he has had to bring you bad news or raise an uncomfortable issue.
Finally, know how far you’d take this. If you’re seeing a fireable offense, you’ll need to be sure your expectations are clear, and need a process to document issues. Consistency is essential—does your tolerance vary person to person?
The Outer Game
It’s clear that you need to talk with him, because even if you’ve determined that his job isn’t on the line—yet—it’s clear that this is bothering you and affecting your relationship with him.
So, planning. Regardless of the gravity of the content, prepare “me” statements that address the situation. “When you told me your project was done when it wasn’t, we almost missed our deadline and I felt like I can’t take you at your word.” Or, “you told me you couldn’t work because you were sick and then I happened to see you out and about; now I question that you’re being straight with me.” Ask for his perspective and be open-minded. You may find there’s a reasonable explanation (he was picking up medicine). But even if there isn’t, you’re encouraging conversation rather than shutting him down.
If you have serious concerns, it’s only fair to let him know. Ground this in your expectations: that if employees can’t get something done or have an issue, they need to be straight with you. And, if not, that their job could be on the line.
Do some preventive work, too. Set him up to succeed in some lower risk ways where he can demonstrate that he is trustworthy. And talk to him about positive aspects of his performance and encourage him when he raises concerns, coaching him to become a stronger and more mature employee.
The Last Word
If you help your employee get past this issue, you’ll be investing in his future. He may look back at you as the best boss he ever had!
Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.
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