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Management Consulting

The Lies We Tell Ourselves – Why Transparency is Key

A goldfish wearing a shark fin to illustrate lying to ourselves.

We like being lied to. If you don’t believe that, then you’re not being honest with yourself! In this article I’ll cover some of the common self-deceptions, biases, and societal pleasantries we entertain. Then, I’ll cover why transparency, even when uncomfortable, is always the better option.

Self-Deception: We Lie to Ourselves

From ancient society working out tedious and sometimes harmful ways to look more attractive, to the carefully curated social media accounts and “virtue signaling” of today, humans certainly understand that perception is everything. Our vanity wants to look good, even if it isn’t entirely true.

Psychology gives us the concept of projection. This is another way we lie to ourselves, thinking we know how someone else feels about something or what they will say about something. We tend to just project our own beliefs or fears onto someone else. And then in turn, we can allow that unconfirmed assumption to affect our own decisions. Here, both vanity and laziness tend to win. In these cases, we find it easier to make assumptions than to dig in and find the truth.

Even in businesses, whether publicly traded companies or non-profit, this desire for looking good to others and to simplify or expedite requirement gathering for proper decision making permeates most teams, which can lead to incorrect analysis and ultimately poor decisions.

Who can blame us though? In some cases, there could be millions of dollars at stake for a company, it could affect one’s promotions or raises, or it could just make us feel crumby and we don’t like that.

Cognitive Biases: We Can’t Help but Lie to Ourselves

Illusions are all around us, and they are powerful. Magicians use sleight-of-hand and misdirection because our brains are built to find efficiency and to not process every bit of information that our senses pick up.

There are dozens of well-documented human biases that explain why we act the way we do. They explain why we fall for the same mistakes time and time again. If you dig further into the physiology and evolution of why psychologists believe these biases exist in the first place, then you can start to understand how powerful they are.

Most of us have been informed of common biases like the price-value bias. We can understand how companies use it when showing us $1.99 instead of $2.00. Or how words like “deluxe” and “premium” are used in marketing products that don’t really qualify. It still happens today because even when we understand the mechanics at play, we still can’t help but be affected by them.

Socially Acceptable Lies: We All Want to be Lied To

Then we have the lies we allow for the sake of remaining polite, fitting in, or for our own personal enjoyment.

These “little lies” often make people happy and keep the peace. We’ll compliment someone’s outfit even if we don’t really think it looks good. I remember once complimenting someone’s food that I didn’t really like, during an extended stay with them. Rather than having the effect I thought it would, they fed it to me two more times while I was there.

Conflict avoidance is another cause of this. We aim to save someone’s feelings and avoid an uncomfortable, seemingly unnecessary interaction.

Or in some cases we just like it! For example, the magical wonder brought on by the stories of Santa Claus. These spread joy for children of all ages, and so we continue the traditions. Or we have movie-magic and Photoshop manipulation that show a moon in the sky that is far too large – we like the added whimsy of it.

Business Lies: Perception is Everything

Then we have the more business-oriented portion of this discussion. This is difficult indeed. As mentioned before, there can be millions of dollars at stake. Between potential revenue, effects on stock prices, positioning for power, or even the more intangible aspects of whether consumers like a brand or not…these are all catalysts for companies to choose to bend or stretch the truth, or in some cases even break it off completely!

Marketing and Public Relations groups will spin things and edit to make the bad sound as good as possible. You may be familiar with the practice of bad news being delivered late on Fridays to lessen the impact of media coverage. Is this wrong, or is it smart?

When I was at another company, I had an Executive Vice President pull me aside after a meeting with the board members and tell me that I didn’t need to mention that a project was behind schedule. I was a bit surprised because the board members all already knew it was behind schedule. My message to them was that we’ve adjusted and are back on track with all stakeholders. Here again, the EVP wanted to look as good as possible by glossing over the bad and focusing on the good. But is that the right thing to do? Does it show that you are dishonest? Can it cause the board to make decisions or take actions that are not fully informed? Where is the line drawn?

It’s real though. We’ve all seen unsubstantiated bad news hit the press that causes a stock to dive hard. The court of public opinion works faster than the legal system. We’ve all also seen someone who gets promoted who seemingly just plays the system. This can happen because we are all human and we are susceptible to biases.

Transparency & Brutal Honesty: Growth Lies Here

Why do I bring all this up? Why not just live with the humanity that we have, where we all know that we do these things, and therefore it should be considered fine?

I bring it up because in my career and personal life, I have seen where bad decisions are made because someone doesn’t have the full story or didn’t bother to try and become informed. Avoidance is not a wise strategy.

Here are some references that back up my experience.

I’ve listened to interviews with Ray Dalio and read his Principles: Life & Work book three times now. He pushes for “radical transparency” and he successfully built that within his Bridgewater investment firm. That said, I have yet to work at a company that maintains that level of transparency. There aren’t many out there willing to do it.

Or you might like Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz who discuss how the FBI changed their negotiations approach and became much more successful by being transparent, open, honest, and just listening more. He even covers how you can use those methods in business or at home with your kids.

If you prefer examples in music and movies… Have you seen the 8 Mile movie starring Eminem? A story where, in the end, telling the truth provides more power than trying to hide it.


When it comes to team communication and project management, we need to be aware of these biases and tendencies that all humans have. We need to try and manage our reactions intentionally. An understanding of the truth is far more valuable, even if you don’t like what it says, because then you can make informed decisions that are more likely to succeed. Clients and customers find it much more difficult to be angry because you told them what was going on as early as you could.

Deception leads to false understanding. This can eventually come to light, and it can be hard to recover from it. What was meant to save millions, could still lose it. It really is a short-term vision rather than a long-term one.

The path to growth includes embracing uncomfortable conversations and continually trying to uncover what is true. It won’t ever be perfect – all we can do is strive to improve our little corner of the world and effect change where we can.


If you are looking for a partner that shares similar ideas and aims for project management transparency, reach out to your Perficient account manager or use our contact form to begin a conversation.

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Brandon Luhring

Brandon is a consumer experience engagement manager at Perficient. His career has included running digital and marketing projects both in-house and as a consultant. He enjoys topics around creativity, innovation, design, technology, and leadership.

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