Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

How to Respond to
 a Dishonest Person

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Expert's Council

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/dishonesty.htm

Updated  01-18-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost..

      This is one of a series of Lesson-2 articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behavior. An effective response occurs when you (a) get your primary needs met well enough, and (b) both people feel respected enough.

      This brief YouTube video about "liars" provides perspective on what you'll read in this article:

      This article offers useful responses to the behavior of someone you experience as significantly dishonest." It assumes you're familiar with...

  • this nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying it   

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • basic options for all responses

  • how to give effective feedback to someone


       Do you know adults or kids who often need to withhold or distort the truth (lie) in general or about certain topics? How about so0me people who are insincere or "phony."? Can you describe how you feel when someone seems to be withho0lding or distorting what's real? Common reactions are distrust, frustration, disapproval, disappointment, suspicion, confusion, impatience, and perhaps hurt and irritation. For perspective on this common behavior, review this article after you finish here.

      If you believe a child or adult feels unsafe to tell you their truth, you have many response-options: e.g. you may...

  • ignore your feelings, and do nothing.

  • silently or vocally scorn the person as being "weak," "bad," "cowardly," and/or "wrong;"

  • confront the person ("I don't believe you." / "You're lying." /...  )

  • gossip or generalize about the person (Louis never tells the truth."),  

  • expect the other person to lie to you - in general, or about certain things; etc.

Responses like these often deplete your integrity and your relationship - and can make it less safe to tell the truth!. Here are more effective options:

  • recall your definition of an "effective response."

  • make sure your true Self is guiding you. If not, the following options probably won't help.

  • guesstimate whether the person is ruled by a protective false self which feels it's unsafe to tell you the truth - locally or in general. If they are significantly wounded, see this for options.

  • check your attitude about the person. If you feel critical or disapproving of them, your nonverbal language will convey that - and make it unsafe for them to tell you the truth.

  • ask if (vs. assume) the person is open to some constructive feedback. Be prepared for ambivalence (a double message) or "Not really."

  • If s/he is open, offer respectful feedback like...

    "I feel you're being controlled now by a well-meaning false self."

    "I sense you feel unsafe about telling me the truth about _____. Am I doing something that makes you feel unsafe?"

    "When you need to distort or withhold the truth, I feel (whatever)."

    "I'd like to improve my trust in you. Are you willing to work on that with me?"

    "What you're saying doesn't seem credible / realistic / accurate to me now."

"I feel confused / uneasy / anxious / distrustful / etc. when your face and body language don't match your words." or "I feel I just got a double message from you." 

      These responses are illustrative, not absolute. Compare them to your normal response, and imagine what reactions you'd get to them with significantly-dishonest (scared) people in your life. How would you feel receiving responses like these when your subselves need to disguise or avoid the truth?


      This is one of a series of brief Lesson-2 articles suggesting effective ways to respond to common social behaviors. This article offers ways to respond to a dishonest person. The ways are based on...

  • keeping your true Self in charge,

  • maintaining a mutual-respect attitude,

  • learning addiction basics and avoiding common myths and errors,

  • clarity on your personal Rights, and...

  • fluency in the relationship skills of awareness, assertion, and empathic listening.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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