The problem with little white lies

Editor's note: The Coaches Corner column appears regularly on the advice and opinion page, Second Opinion.

"I wish I could just tell her how I really feel about it," she said to me. Sandra was upset with herself because she couldn't tell her friend the truth about not going with her on a weekend retreat.

The truth was the weekend plans had changed considerably after she had invited her, and now it just didn't seem like much fun for her to go. She didn't want to tell her that, so instead she told her "a little white lie" to get out of going, but then felt angry for her making herself lie. And further, if her friend found out about her little white lie, she was fearful she would never be asked again.

Susan was in a similar situation. A co-worker wasn't pulling her weight on the team. It was making Susan have to work much harder, and she was getting more frustrated by the day. Their boss didn't really know what was going on, so he never said anything to the co-worker.

"If I say something, I'll look like I'm her boss and it'll make working with her even more difficult," Susan thought. She felt stuck, which made coming to work each day that much more uninviting. The thought had even occurred to her that if things got worse, she might need to change jobs!

Assumed responses

In both of these situations, what do you see was fundamentally at play? You or I likely would have encouraged both of these individuals to have a constructive conversation with the other person about what they were feeling, right? Of course!

So why didn't that happen?

In both cases, there was an assumed response from the other person. Fearful of a possible negative response from the other person, Sandra and Susan both elected not to tell their truth. As a result, Sandra worries about her friend ever finding out the truth; Susan thinks she might end up having to find a job elsewhere.

Dr. Smith, a general dentist with a staff of six, including one dental hygienist, is frustrated with the hygienist's lack of commitment to the practice. She acts like a "queen bee" a lot of the time and doesn't pull her fair share of the team effort, except for seeing patients. And because she's paid on commission, she doesn't attend any of the team meetings "because she's not paid for them."

Dr. Smith wants to sit down with her and set her straight about being a productive team player, but he's fearful she might quit -- and then he'd be without ANY hygienists. With a shortage of available dental hygienists in his area, he's even more concerned that he wouldn't be able to replace her for quite a while and his practice would suffer severely.

Dr. Smith's situation isn't much different than Sandra's or Susan's, is it? He, too, has fallen prey to fear of a possible negative response from the hygienist, so instead has to make excuses to the rest of the staff when she doesn't attend team meetings or help out with the nonpatient portion of the practice.

Telling the truth

In these situations, each person felt the need to change his or her life because of perceived emotional responses from others. They had to do things they didn't and don't want to do. And you can bet they're more than frustrated!

Beyond having a constructive conversation, what's one to do in situations like these -- situations that are all too common in our daily lives? Consider these points:

  • Not telling your truth is a major source of stress. Start by telling the truth, and things will always work out how they should.

  • By telling the truth about how you feel to the person, you'll be free to make whatever choices you wish to make. By not telling the truth, you'll feel imprisoned.

  • Don't let your feelings get bottled up. "Stuffing" your feelings will only make you angrier and angrier. If that happens chronically, you'll likely soon suffer from depression and other illnesses.

  • Develop and maintain an open, honest relationship with everyone. By doing so, you won't fear their response, and you'll be closer to them. They'll be more willing to work with you, and they'll know you can be a trusted friend or co-worker.

  • By telling your truth, you'll be healthier and happier.

  • Telling the truth builds bridges, not fences.

  • Avoiding truthful conversations will always worsen any situation. Telling the truth may make the situation worse in the short term, but only briefly. It usually feels like a mountain, but only turns out to be a bump.

By not having to build your life around the emotional responses of others, you'll be able to live a life of truth and freedom, and not suffer from worry, fear, or doubt.

Don Deems, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., known as the Dentist's Coach, is a co-founder of the Dental Coaches Association, an organization of dentists who are professional coaches committed to bringing professional coaching to the dental profession. Learn more about professional coaching by visiting

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

Copyright © 2010

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