I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. An FBI supervisor happened to see me in the hall just as he was trying to identify an agent who could handle a discreet inquiry into an allegation that another FBI employee was involved in a fraud scheme.
Touchy matter—for many reasons, but primarily because no one wants to be a modern day Thomas Cromwell and wield the hatchet for upper management. I wasn’t so much “asked” as “selected” to be the investigative agent. Next thing I knew I was holding a new case file in my hand.
It turned out that a friend of the FBI employee had made the allegation after a rift in their relationship. I would need the employee’s full disclosure of facts if we were to save her job.
There is always an awkward moment when you notify an individual that they are being investigated for breaking rules, or in this case, laws. Should you call them and arrange a meeting? Or simply drop by their office and hope for privacy? I chose to call and asked the woman to come to my office—immediately—about a pending personnel issue.
In my office, she denied any wrongdoing. As I probed further into the matter, it looked more like dishonesty than a fraud scheme—not commendable but certainly not worthy of any type of criminal charge.
When I met with the employee again, she continued to deny any wrongdoing. I explained that since the case did not meet the threshold of a crime, she would not be fired. But what I needed at this point from her was complete candor. I needed her to tell the truth.
There are many reasons to ask good questions:
1. I know at what point they start being deceitful in their answers
The employee denied signing documents that pointed to dishonest intentions when I had those same documents in my possession.
2. I can watch body language
This allows me to get familiar with their mannerism so I will more easily recognize changes in them, which can indicate deceit. Her hands were folded in her lap until we came to the topic of the signatures and then covered her lips with a forefinger – a signal that she was about to lie.
3. I can listen for verbal clues
People use different sentence structure and voice levels when they’re stressed or deceitful. Her manner of speech became more formal as we talked about the signed documents.
Instead of telling me the truth, the FBI employee continued to lie. I went the supervisor who made an immediate decision to fire her—not because she was falsely accused of being involved in a fraud scheme or because she broke the law, but because of her lack of candor.
If an FBI employee shows lack of candor, it is reason for automatic dismissal. It may sound harsh at first; this woman was fired when she had basically done nothing illegal. But she had lied, and in doing so, she had proven herself untrustworthy. She did not have the mental toughness to admit she had made a mistake.
How many of the difficulties you are struggling with could have been avoided by simply telling the truth? I have found that it’s easier to fall on my sword and admit my mistake rather than trying to patch it over with a lie. People seek the truth, partly because it’s become a rare commodity in so many areas of our lives these days.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to correct a lie after you’ve denied the truth because after a while, you start to believe the lie.
Most relationships are not entirely reciprocal because, one party usually wields more power over the others. This is particularly true for those in leadership positions. My FBI experience taught me that trust and respect are two-way streets. It’s impossible to build one without the other.
We all take liberties with the truth at times, especially when we try to hide our faults and conceal our errors. But here are 5 things to remember about truth:
- The truth can be hard at first, but it’s easier in the long run.
- The truth is the beginning of freedom.
- The truth is its own explanation.
- The truth is the cure for confusion.
- The truth is within you.
I don’t know whatever became of the FBI employee, and I don’t know if she ever learned the hard lesson that it only takes one small truth to set a life straight.
When has telling the truth got you out of tight spot?
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