When The Truth Hurts: How To Repair Your Rep After Being Caught In A Lie At Work

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Brian Williams is a veteran and respected broadcast journalist. But his reputation got shot to pieces recently when he admitted to lying about being on a helicopter that was forced down when he was covering the war in Iraq in 2003.

The NBC Nightly News anchor recanted his original story to Stars and Stripes and said in a new interview with the military paper that he doesn’t know “what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.” Williams claims it was all an error in his memory.

Previously, Williams had described being aboard a helicopter that was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade and forced down during the Iraq War then later “rescued, surrounded and kept alive” by a platoon, reports The Huffington Post. Now he admits he was not on that aircraft. Williams has now stepped aside from his anchor duties and has cancelled a planned appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman.

So what should you do if you are caught in a lie at work? Admit it? Say it was an error in judgment? Or like Williams say you just didn’t remember correctly? “Lying is never a good choice, unless your boss asks you if you like her new shoes!” Karin Hurt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, tells MadameNoire. “It’s very difficult to recover a breach of trust.” And be ready to be fired from your position and for it to be difficult to land a new one. Moving forward you will have to rebuild your reputation in your industry.”

If your lie is discovered, don’t make things worse by trying to cover it up or the make it seem like it was a good decision says Hurt. You must try to repair the situation, but keep in mind it will be difficult.

“Sadly, it is far more challenging to restore a reputation than to establish one. It is always important to provide context for your indiscretion without offering up an excuse,” Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, says. “Also, when you accept the consequences of your decision, appear remorseful, and bend over backwards to make up for the bad judgment, through these collective actions your colleagues and boss are more likely to focus on your current activities especially if they add value or provide some material benefit.”

Trust in you will not return right away. You will have to prove yourself again — and again. “Recognize it may take some time. Don’t resent others for the problem you created,” says Hurt. “Be patient and act with integrity in everything you do. People may be able to forgive once you slip up, but a pattern of lying will destroy your career.”

You can take steps to  improve the situation. “Apologize immediately and then ask what you can best do to regain their trust going forward,” advises Hurt. Cohen adds, “Don’t be defensive and never accuse anyone else for your transgression.”

Make yourself useful to your co-workers. “Jump in to help others. Take on special projects and be available to work overtime, on weekends, and/or holidays,” says Cohen. “When you do favors for folks they tend to focus on the favor and recent history and are inclined to be more forgiving.”

You will also need to take a hard look at the reasons behind your actions. Figure out why you decided to lie in the first place so you won’t repeat the same mistake. “Most important, think about what led you to engage in dishonesty and what you could or should have done to have avoided taking the wrong path,” offers Cohen.

Have you ever been caught in a lie at work?

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