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We all know the image of the stereotypical “go-getter” who’s unafraid to pull an unethical stunt to get ahead. Fudging the truth, inventing figures, bluffing on a resume...these things all seem to be painted as part of the playbook when it comes to doing business in the modern landscape.

In truth, there are few things more dangerous than conducting yourself this way. Entrepreneurs who are willing to do or say anything, and bend the truth in particular, often end up paying dearly for it. And for more reason than one, honesty still remains the best policy. 

Reputation is Paramount

Especially in your first business, when you’re making foundational connections at every level, people want to know they’re dealing with someone who can be trusted. Fudging facts about your business might make you look good in the short term, but that’s not where lasting reputations are made.

Science has proven that we hold onto negative experiences more than positive ones, so for every client you burn with a tall tale that doesn’t come through, two more are going to hear that you can’t be trusted. In customer service, too, bad news travels faster than good, but often times stemming the dissemination of negative customer experiences is as simple as facing them head-on. Honesty is, in many ways, simply a matter of self-preservation when you’re building a business.

A Business You Can Be Proud Of

Obvious as it may be outside of work, in the middle of a tough day it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there’s more to life than deals. You want to run a business that you can be proud of, and one that holds value in your community. Integrity isn’t bought, but earned one day at a time. Avoiding or obfuscating the difficult truths paints you as someone not worth doing business with. So, how does one go about practicing real honesty in business, the kind that will burnish your reputation rather than send it up in flames?

Choose Your Words Carefully

For one, don’t get into the habit of making promises. Not because it frees you from high expectations (you and your clients should have those already!), but because on the occasions you don’t live up to those promises, those failures also yield lies. There’s no better way to put yourself in a bad position than nailing yourself to a lie.

Having the drive to operate at the highest level possible doesn’t mean telling people you’re grabbing the moon and the stars. When a deadline isn’t met, or a product isn’t up to standards, misrepresenting the reasons why isn’t covering up a problem, it’s compounding it. Be optimistic, yes, but realistic. 

A Policy that Lasts

Being realistic also means being honest at times when you might be tempted to stretch the truth a little. Presenting your point without equivocation—whether it’s a point about yourself or someone else—isn’t always easy. But think about accuracy as a reputation. About honesty as a legacy. If you’re lying and cheating your way to success in business, you’re in some way canceling out the successes you’ve had in other parts of your life.

While it’s true that building a company will include tough decisions and occasionally getting aggressive, going overboard means poisoning the well when it comes to making connections and growing your reputation. Breaking your back and breaking your word are two completely different things: one will increase your options, and the other will severely limit them. Once you’ve spent the time and energy building your business into something real, you reach a point where taking a shortcut creates more problems than it solves. 

A famous president once said, “No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar,” and whether or not that’s entirely true, one thing is: the brainpower it takes to bend the truth is a terrible thing to waste.

About the Author(s)

David Kleinhandler

David Kleinhandler is a New York-based investor and entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience founding and funding financial startups.

Founder and President, Vest Financial Group
Bending the Truth Can Break Your Business, David Kleinhandler