Denial of Authenticity – Lessons from coaching those who have to lie

By Giulio Franzinetti, November 10, 2020

Source: Timothy R. Levine et al., Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 2016; Evelyne Debey and Others, Psychologica Acta, 2015; Kim Serota, Oakland University. Reproduced by National Geographic June 2017

Those who work in sales are constantly pressured to create and project an image that does not correspond to their reality. Perhaps among the most problematic situations involve people resigned to maintaining a sometimes hypocritical and often false communication. They may come to hate what they have to do day after day. A manager who […]

Those who work in sales are constantly pressured to create and project an image that does not correspond to their reality.

Perhaps among the most problematic situations involve people resigned to maintaining a sometimes hypocritical and often false communication. They may come to hate what they have to do day after day.

A manager who must behave in a way that is not natural given his cultural origins or his political views can justify his actions by saying that he does it for courtesy or because it is necessary for certain social situations. The consequences of making one misrepresent products and services that are sold to customers or to third parties as is expected in the financial, pharmaceutical industries, may be grave.

Corporate life allows for the free expression of a few stakeholders, but most managers cannot say everything they think. They are not allowed to express themselves with authenticity. A little fib said to be polite, will not have the same effect as the lie made for fear or necessity: a manager is sometimes forced to misrepresent facts or words spoken. Sometimes one is forced not to say what one really thinks, and even deny or hide one’s religion, ethnicity, political opinion or sexual identity. In other words, in almost all workplaces, one is sometimes forced to deny one’s authenticity. These requirements of corporate life expose the company to reputational risk; insurance giant Aon considers reputational damage to be the number one risk to business internationally. Denial of authenticity is the term used in psychology when you are forced to lie or to present yourself for what you are not.

The effects of conformism, of the need for confidentiality, and of reticent behaviour, contradict our belief that we are free masters of our own destiny. The more an employee or a stakeholder is aware of having made his or her choice in accepting and maintaining a job or a contractual relationship, the more he or she suffers from the fact that one is forced to deny its authenticity by complying with the rules or requirements of secrecy.

If a manager admits he or she is not free, resentment towards himself and others will grow. If he keeps a business relationship or remains employed for money, or for fear, he or she must admit that he has no power to leave his job or even to change the terms of his engagement. So, is this manager a free person? If the manager considers himself free, then he will hate himself and others for his inactivity.

In the case of an employee, the company cannot cope with the problem by invoking the use of psychoanalysis. The intervention of a psychoanalyst creates other problems such as implicit stigmatisation: the subject becomes ‘sick’, and the employer becomes responsible for the damage suffered. If everyone has to deny a part of himself or herself to sell or survive, management must recognize the need to provide effective support in terms of coaching.

Case Studies

Finance. The sale of financial products is often entrusted to poorly trained staff, driven by their superiors to sell risky products. The subject of the case was a manager of one of the largest Italian banks, who was threatened with dismissal if it had not obtained the results required by senior management. Even knowing how dangerous it was to invest in Parmalat, and Argentinan debt and some structured products; he continued to sell to his customers who lost significant amounts of their savings because he was doing so. In the end, the staff secretly supplied documents to lawyers representing investors. Besides, demoralised staff members refused to collaborate with the ‘anti-fraud office of the bank for several years.

Pharma  A representative of US pharmaceutical companies, Gwen Olsen, writes in Confessions of an Rx Drug Pusher who for 15 years worked for Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Abbott Laboratories. Tired of her employers’ constant pressures, she writes about how she was forced to lie. The truth is that she was told to sell, not to lie, but she acknowledged that the consequence of the pressure, was her decision to lie. Materials published in the book were used during testimonies presented to the US Congress. The reputation of the groups was damaged to the point that institutional investors became wary of investing in them.

In Conclusion

The breaking point occurs when the manager’s growing desire to affirm his or her identity coincides with the decline in career expectations. In many cases, the mid-life crisis is attributed to the denial of one’s authenticity.  The coach works for the employer but is never antagonistic to the employee. The role of the coach is to help the employee manage the balance between ambition, needs, fears and identities, recognising the common interest with the company for which he or she works. The coach must create a safe space where the coach and the coachee can speak freely and with the assurance that nothing will be transmitted to the company, even though the company is the client.

 

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