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  • Writer's pictureGODVERSITY

Truth and Deception at Work

Virtually everyone knows that the people of God are supposed to tell the truth. Even though we recognize there are exceptions—protecting the innocent, guarding national security, and a few others—we remember how Jesus described himself as “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and we understand that truth is the way of life God calls us to.

But our commitment to truth is often stretched thin in the workplace. Sometimes it seems that it is impossible to succeed at work by telling only the truth. Sometimes it even seems that the workplace is a different realm from the world Jesus inhabited, and that truth is actually out of place at work. Consider the case of Philippe Kahn.

Philippe Kahn was the head of startup software company Borland International, and needed a break to launch his company. His software was field-tested and ready to market and distribute, and all he needed was an opportunity. But Kahn had no employees (beyond his assistant) and no money to mount an expensive advertising campaign. What he really needed was an ad in the niche magazine Byte. But the ad cost $20,000 that he didn’t have, and he had insufficient collateral for a loan that size. He needed 100% credit for the ad. The only way he knew to get credit like that was to attempt an elaborate bluff, to convince the sales person for Byte that his company was much more of a going concern that it actually was. So he rented office space for the day, hired temporary employees to answer non-existent phone calls, left a folder open that indicated that Byte was far down the list of potential advertisers, and told the salesperson that he didn’t think Byte was the right forum to advertise his product. His intention, as he admitted in a later interview in Inc. magazine, was to make the salesperson believe that his company was strong enough to generate the sales from the ad to repay the loan.[1] And in fact, that is precisely what occurred. The ad sold roughly $150,000 worth of software, Byte got paid, and Borland International was on its way. Clearly, everyone benefitted and no one got hurt.

Kahn’s strategy raises important questions about truthtelling and deception. It seems clear that Kahn’s intention was to deceive the Byte salesperson. Many in the business community assess actions such as Kahn’s as clever, and would blame the salesperson for not doing his homework on the company before extending the credit.[2] But this scenario strikes many others as unethical.  This illustrates some of the nuances that must be explored in coming to a well-reasoned view of truthtelling and disclosure and its application to work.

In this article, we will first lay a Biblical foundation for truthtelling, establishing it as the prima facie norm for interactions between human beings. Then we will look at exceptions to this norm. We will emphasize why truthtelling is important, both for the believer and for the culture at large. Then we will apply the notion of truthtelling to the workplace and suggest that though truthtelling is a very strong norm, there are times when it is not necessarily required. We will address puffery, white lies, bluffing and occasions when the other party has no right to the truth. Although the vast majority of the believer’s life is spent in pursuing truth, describing the exceptions takes many words, and much of the text of this article is spent in developing their proper limits. The balance of text in an article on truth and deception does not reflect the proper balance of truth and deception in a believer’s life.



Article / Produced by TOW Project

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