Want to tell a lie? Put it in an e-mail

January 19, 2007

Academics' suspicions about the truthfulness of e-mails from students and colleagues are well founded, according to new research.

Psychologists have found that one in seven of all communications in the workplace contains lies and that people are more likely to lie when they do not have to look another person in the eye.

Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire who examined workplace exchanges found that in 15 per cent of all communications respondents admitted to straightforward lying.

In a third of communications, "deception" of some sort occurred - the most common forms were distorting or withholding information, providing deliberately ambiguous information or changing the subject in order to deceive.

Sandi Mann co-authored the research, which was presented to the British Psychological Society's occupational psychology annual conference last week. She said there were particular implications for academics. "We use e-mail a lot, and it is easier for students to be economical with the truth about missed deadlines by e-mail."

But, she added, the technology could also betray students. "I've had students send one excuse to me and different ones to their friends, and then those e-mails have inadvertently reached me."

The researchers recommend team-building exercises to foster "psychological closeness" between managers and subordinates.

"With students, face-to-face contact is good, although there is always going to be some amount of dissembling when it comes to late essays," Dr Mann said.

The research examined 138 workplace communications in various organisations in the North-West.

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