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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

6 Times it's OK Not to Tell the Truth at Work

Contrary to what you learned in between naptimes in kindergarten, honesty is not always the best policy—especially at work, when it concerns touchy subjects like your interest in a competitor’s job opening or your massive crush on your boss (hey, you wouldn’t be the first). So, let me give you the low-down: Here’s a list of questions you definitely don’t want to answer with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, along with slick answers to help you handle them with ease.

1. “Saw you with a suit on yesterday. Got an interview?”

It doesn’t matter how close you are to a colleague who asks about your sudden respect for formal attire. Don’t admit to interviewing with another company until you feel absolutely confident that you’re leaving your current one. And, even then, I wouldn’t recommend it. You don’t enjoy awkward situations do you? How about two weeks’ worth of them after you give your notice, when everyone's offended that you didn't even try to hide the fact you were job hunting?

Instead, dodge the bullet with flattery, saying something like, “Ha, thanks for taking notice of my new suit—I just bought it and I couldn’t resist wearing it ASAP in the office. They say dress for the job you want, right? Well, I want that promotion I’m up for in a month. Wish me luck!”

That’ll throw them off your trail.

2. “C’mon, you can be honest. Don’t you think she’s sort of an evil troll?”

Yes, you despise her. “Her” could be your well-connected, must-hire intern, your one-upping peer, or your raging witch of a boss. But, you should never say what you really think, even if your office BFF reveals her own negative opinion. Why not? Let me answer that with another question: Have we learned nothing from the three-way calling scene from Mean Girls?

If you’re venting at the office, stay professional and only mention work-related difficulties. Let me clarify: Work situations that were difficult—specific instances that you have already discussed and solved. This isn’t the time to complain about her crazy-cat-lady tendencies, this is only a time where you can say that you have had some bumps in the road in your working relationship but that the two of you have worked it out in the following ways.

This will appease your office friend, but also show that you’re keeping things professional without leaving any room for toxic gossiping. Who can say anything bad about that?

3. “Everyone thinks your boss is hot. Do you think he’s cute?”

Of course, you think he’s cute. You’re not blind, nor living without a pulse. But, in this case, you better act like your type isn’t tall, dark, and handsome. Even if other people have admitted to batting eyelashes at your boss, guess what, he’s your boss—not theirs. And I’m sure your idea of a healthy, successful working relationship isn’t blushing behind your binder while he gives you the project rundown of the week.

When this question comes up, simply laugh it off and say something to the effect of, “I’m sure he is—if only I could see straight. All of the work I’ve been doing lately has left me bleary-eyed.” And, then, continue to obsess about him internally if you wish.

4. “Not trying to get into politics here, but just curious about your thoughts on the debate. Who do you think did best?”

Don’t fall for this. Any question including an inkling of politics has a high chance of resulting in hurt feelings and harsh judgments. If you compliment Romney’s aggressiveness or Ryan’s calm and collected concentration, then the Democrat you’re talking to may very well take that as a slight to Obama and Biden. And before you know it, he’s offended and heatedly promoting his platform. (I’ve seen this happen.)

Stop the conversation before it goes there, and remember that comedy usually puts things on neutral grounds. Responses like, “Definitely the moderator, definitely” or “Hands down, best performance was the SNL parody. Did you see that?” will take this uncomfortable discussion to a much lighter, work-appropriate place.

5. “Looks like somebody had a late night last night. Were you at the doctor’s office this morning or nursing a hangover?”

You are always at the doctor’s office. You are never nursing a hangover, even if the person asking is a “cool” boss or co-worker. Why should you take this little white lie to your grave? Because, one, the last thing you want people to think is that you regularly call in sick when you’re not. Also, you’re just giving them ammunition for teasing you that day. And a good joke or story is hard to keep to yourself, so you can expect a parade of co-workers to come by and see the team drunk in her natural habitat.

So, no talk about the bachelorette party or the celebration of your best friend’s divorce, just a killer cold and trip to the doc-in-the-box to make the congestion stop. Capiche?

6. “Did you get anything they were saying in there?”

While yes, you understood the basis of the meeting—the truth is that you had no idea what anyone was talking about. But you do not want to risk your inquisitive friend taking matters into her own hands and telling your supervisor that you’re both clueless.

So, simply say, “Yeah, I understand what we’re doing overall [insert buzzwords here], but I definitely have a few questions I’d like to follow up on.” You let your friend know she’s not in the twilight zone—but you also look competent enough to ask for clarity on just a few things.

Yes, some people ask awkward questions, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. But with the right answers prepared, you’ll ease yourself out of many an outrageous scenario. And hey, if all else fails, pretend it’s so loud in the office, you can’t hear the question. It’s never let me down.

Photo of women talking courtesy of Shutterstock.