S2E10: Truth or Consequences - Honesty in Business with Malinda Lowder
Angel Leon: Hello, everyone and welcome to another edition of ASCII Anything presented by Moser Consulting. I'm your host, Angel Leon, Moser's HR advisor. In this week's episode, we'll be talking about what is honesty in business? And we're going to be exploring why the truth is important in business interactions, inside and outside of marketing and advertising. In a very deep Jack Nicholson voice, can you handle the truth? Will the truth set you free? Does that have anything to do with marketing and advertising in general? All of that and much more here on ASCII Anything this week. With us today is Malinda Lowder, who you will remember from our Green IT episode from season one. Malinda is the marketing lead for Moser Consulting and she has been a creative specialist in Indianapolis for 25 years doing advertising and marketing work for retail stores, nonprofits, radio stations and technology companies. Malinda, it's great to have you back on ASCII Anything. I have to admit this topic is new to me so I am excited to dive in and learn more about it. Before we get to that, how are you?
Malinda Lowder: Thanks, Angel. I'm really happy to be here.
Angel Leon: Great. That's great to hear. Are you ready to talk about the truth?
Malinda Lowder: I think so. It's a little scary, isn't it? We all think we want to tell the truth, we don't want to think that we lie.
Angel Leon: Yeah, I can attest to that. In a previous life, I have to admit, I took a lie detector test as you would call it, but honestly it was a polygraph test. And in one of those exercises I had in my first time, actually, I failed. I failed at something that was very to me, it was common. For those of you who don't know, I grew up in Puerto Rico where we have a hodgepodge of cultures and different people that come in from different islands in the Caribbean. One of the questions that they asked me was if I knew any foreign nationals and I said," No." Now mind you, this is in the middle of something that we're reliving today or close to it today, after the events of 9/ 11. I'm thinking about foreign nationals, individuals from the Middle East, things like that, I would have never thought that my best friend who was of Dominican descent from the Dominican Republic would be considered a foreign national. I instinctively said," No, I do not know any foreign nationals." And the gentleman that was testing me said," Well, you failed." And of course I threw up my arms, was like," What? I didn't fail. I don't know anybody from the Middle East. I don't know anybody from Afghanistan and Iran," you name it. And he said," Well, you don't know any Mexicans? You don't know any Dominicans?" And I was just appalled because these are people that I grew up with and that I had relationships with. And I unknowingly quote unquote, lied. Speaking about, you don't want to be caught lying. You don't want to lie but I really, in my mind, I wasn't lying but according to this test, I was.
Malinda Lowder: See what's interesting is you didn't even think you were telling a lie but your body knew you were telling a lie. I think that's very interesting. There's a lot. We're not going to get into it too much but there's a lot of neurological things that happen when we lie as opposed to when we tell the truth. And that's why the polygraph tests work. If somebody would have asked you if they hadn't had the polygraph test on you, they probably would've thought you were telling the truth because you thought you were telling the truth but different things happen in our bodies when we lie and when we tell the truth and it's happening at such a level that that's why these things work. You don't even know sometimes that you're doing it. I've been doing some research on this. I've been talking to a lot of people about lying and about how they feel about it. And I'm just kind of interested in the topic and I've been having a lot of conversations about it and doing some research. And one of the things I found was that they did a study and found that most adults can't make it through a 10 minute conversation without lying. And not only that, they didn't only lie once, they lied at least three times in that conversation. And most of those people like you, didn't think they had lied. If they asked them afterwards," Did you lie to that person?" And most of those people said," No, I didn't." They showed them back the video and had them go over their words. And they were like, most of them admitted in the end," Yeah, okay. I really didn't tell the truth to that person. That's not a full truth. That's technically a lie." And then it wasn't until they went back that they realized that they had. They had lied. We learn it very young. Anybody who has a kid, your kids learn to lie to you pretty early on.
Angel Leon: I hate to say it, but that's true.
Malinda Lowder: Yeah, it's just human nature and it's just how it is. It's too easy to do. And why do we lie? There's so many reasons. We lie to fit in. I think that's a lot of it. You don't want to admit you've never seen The Godfather. Everybody's seen The Godfather so even if you haven't, you have to kind of admit that. To save someone else's feelings, we've all heard about that, little white lies to save someone's feelings. We've lied to not look foolish. There's a million reasons.
Angel Leon: A couple things, I don't have to lie about watching The Godfather, I've done it many different times. Second, you brought up an interesting point in that a white lie. Is there such a thing that might be a good lie? Because as you mentioned, sometimes we lie to save someone's feelings, to just save them from feeling terrible about something. What do you think about that?
Malinda Lowder: Yeah, I think it's interesting. I try not to judge people on it. I believe in telling the truth but we're going to get into it. There's a cost to it. There's a cost to telling the truth otherwise people would do it. When you lie to someone to save their feelings, you're saving their feelings but you're saving your uncomfortableness with what you would have said to them and how they would have reacted. There's a lot to unpack there. And if you look into the neurology, when you do lie, it activates different parts of your brains and does things to you that stress you out, even telling little lies causes yourself stress, whereas telling the truth actually releases feelings of relaxation and more pleasant feelings in yourself.
Angel Leon: Well, and this is more about personal lying so we got to get to the business part of it, but you're right. You're hurting yourself too because then what could start as a white lie of something very simple might end up creating this net of lies afterwards because you have to lie to keep up the lie, to keep up the lie.
Malinda Lowder: Yeah, it can start very small and it can end up very big.
Angel Leon: Yeah. Yeah. But that's a topic for a whole nother episode but we were talking business here. You're a marketing person. How often does the topic of truth come up in your work?
Malinda Lowder: Yeah, all the time. Truth in marketing, it's been a topic for a long time. The FTC has truth in advertising laws for the ad industry and they monitor it very closely and make sure that any claims made are not fraudulent or even misleading to the public. The marketing industry is very accustomed to this type of scrutiny. And most of us try to be extremely ethical and watch what we say and how we say it in our advertising and our marketing efforts very closely. And I'm of the feeling that these truth in advertising laws actually saved the marketing industry early on in the 1900s when things were kind of running amok and before the laws, people were just making insane claims in the marketing industry and their advertising and it was becoming untrustworthy. We kind of think today that marketers are a little bit untrustworthy and that they kind of manipulate people a little bit but before these laws things were really out of control. And I really feel like if they hadn't taken hold, that the entire industry would have just really been untrustworthy and it really wouldn't have been what it is today. The laws do a lot of things though. You'll probably recognize those when you think about different ads you've seen. Promote facts checking, if an ad says nine out of 10 dentists claim this or that, you have to have facts to back that up. You can't just make that up. That's something that the FTC would hit on very quickly and you would have to have the research and it would have to be a quality research to actually back that up. Obviously, it prohibits lying or other deceptions, if you're a restaurant or something. We all kind of laugh because the burgers that the restaurants don't look exactly like the ads but it may not be exactly like it but the stuff that they photograph does actually have to be the actual materials. They can't put a higher quality patty in the burger in the ad. It actually has to be the exact same things and they can make it look a little prettier than what you get in the drive thru line but it actually has to be the same everything. There's a lot of prohibiting lying, deception. And then obviously, when you see the drug ads, you know about warning for risks, things like that, there's a lot of technical things that are involved in it.
Angel Leon: Yes. Sometimes a laundry list of items in the drug commercials are just, if you take this pill, it's going to help you with this but then it's going to cause all of this. And then a laundry list of stuff comes out.
Malinda Lowder: And that's all because of the truth in advertising laws and it's a very regulated industry.
Angel Leon: Well and you took a thought straight out of my mind when we're talking about photographing amazing looking food. I always joke because my 18 year old son, he's very particular about ads, especially food ads, especially burger ads because he's one, when he sees something new on the TV, he's like," Hey, can we go try this?" And then we bring it home and he opens up the package and it's like," Oh, that doesn't look anything like what it looked like in the ad."
Malinda Lowder: Yeah again, what is deception? For the photograph, it has to be the same product. Now they can prop it up with toothpicks and they can do things like that. But they can't actually sub out a different product from what you're going to get. Is that deception? Is that lying? It's not but an argument could be made.
Angel Leon: Yeah. No. And you're right. As long as every item on the picture is on the actual item that you're receiving at the counter, that's what it counts. That's what counts but the presentation could probably be a little bit better.
Malinda Lowder: No, I totally agree. I'm glad I'm not in the food industry.
Brian Gentrup: Well Angel, you could explain it to your son it's the difference between being in your pajama bottoms and a t- shirt for a Zoom class or wearing a tuxedo and getting a haircut for prom.
Malinda Lowder: It's the same person.
Brian Gentrup: For a lot of people looking at it, it's presentational.
Malinda Lowder: Yeah, you're the same person no matter if you're dressed down or dressed up but it's just about the dressing,
Angel Leon: True. That's true.
Brian Gentrup: Hopefully he's going to look better if he ever gets married, on the day he gets married, he'll look better than he did this morning sitting on the couch eating cereal.
Angel Leon: Yeah. I just hope he doesn't go to his wedding day pajama bottoms and then the tuxedo top.
Malinda Lowder: Never know.
Angel Leon: All right. Truth in advertising, no matter what reputation it has, it's backed by laws and consequences of course. What about when it is not advertising? What about business interactions?
Malinda Lowder: Yeah. And that's where it can get a little dicey. Is it illegal to lie when you're having a business conversation? We've already talked about, most people can go 10 minutes without lying. And the answer is maybe it's illegal to lie in a business interaction. It's definitely an ethical issue. It is unethical to lie. It is unethical to lie in business. That's very clear but people do it all the time and nobody's going to jail unless you cross over another line, like the truth in advertising or securities fraud or lying under oath, something like that. But in the industry, we're seeing a whole trend of consumers demanding that companies that they work with or buy from be more truthful and people want to trust a company and they want to know that they're being told the truth and being dealt with in an honest way. In recent years, I'm not going to mention names but you can just look at the news, a large media company and a very large and old car manufacturer and a large bank were all caught lying to their customers. And each of those survived the deception but not every company does. Sometimes even if it doesn't break a law, the lie to the public is so large that it really can cause the death of a company.
Angel Leon: Takes a toll. I know we don't want to name anybody but I can remember a recent incident for a large car manufacturer where it had issues with some of its car manufacturing, let's say that. And they're still to this day paying the toll of being deceitful and they've taken a lot of positive steps towards improving their relationship with the public. But you still find some people out there who don't trust them and who don't believe in their brand anymore.
Malinda Lowder: Yeah, once that bell has been rung, you can't unring it. Everybody knows.
Angel Leon: Yeah. Yeah. Along those same lines, then what does it mean to tell the truth in business?
Malinda Lowder: It means a lot of things. Part of it is owning up to mistakes. Each of those companies may not have immediately owned up to their mistakes but eventually they did. And it could be as small as if your company misses a deadline, don't lie about it. Tell the customer, you missed it. Tell them why you missed it and then try to fix it. People generally respond much better to that than if you try to make up some reason, it wasn't our fault or this happened, that happened. Just own up to it. Don't just sweep it under the rug. Most people get in trouble for the cover up that they try to do, not the initial thing that went wrong. My mother- in- law used to tell me that the sun is the best sanitizer and I think that applies to owning up to mistakes too. Just bringing that mistake out into the sun, into the light and letting the light, letting everybody knowing about it sanitize it. And I think that that's pretty timely. And part of telling the truth is just keeping your customers' interests, their best interest in mind. Don't try to over promise things. Don't say something as free, if it really isn't. Be sure that the things that you offer them actually do add value. Your customers are the reason you're in business and building a relationship that is based on honesty and truth will keep them loyal. And again, admit it and own it if something goes wrong or even if your product isn't the best. And that's a hard one, especially for salespeople. If you get to know a customer and your product isn't necessarily the best one for that person, do you let them know that? Or do you just keep trying to sell them the product that you know won't be the best for them? And then just being open and transparent. And I know that's something that's really important to Moser is transparency and openness but a lot of people say that and they don't actually do it. I think companies have to from the top down work on that vulnerability of being open and what that means to a company.
Angel Leon: Well I think you brought up, those three points that you made are excellent because owning up to your mistakes, keeping your client's best interest in mind and then approach your issues with vulnerability and truth are key to relationship building. Everything you said basically sums up what a good relationship sounds like. Make sure that if you do have a mistake, own up to it. There's nothing wrong with saying the truth. We're talking about truth here. And then keeping your client's best interest in mind, that should be at the forefront of any business really, whether you're in the food industry, in the IT industry as we are or any other type of industry, customers keep you afloat. They're the ones that provide you business so they're the ones that allow you to remain open. You should always have their best interests in mind. And then being honest, that should be an everyday life ode, be honest, be truthful. Not every product is perfect. Not every product might fit what the customer that you're facing has but you can basically sell it in a way that you can show the strengths first and maybe those vulnerabilities might not be so huge to them at the time but you can also explore those and talk through them.
Malinda Lowder: Yeah, totally.
Angel Leon: Great points. If telling the truth is so beneficial, this is the mother of all questions, why do businesses lie?
Malinda Lowder: Why? Why is it so hard? Why is it so hard to tell the truth? We've just went through the reasons and it's also logical why you would just tell the truth. And it seems so simple, but why do we all still lie? Like we said, you can't go 10 minutes without telling a lie. We've been talking for 10 minutes. I'm trying to think back and I would tell you, I haven't lied but going back and listening to it as I'm sure I will, I'll try to pick out now if I have or not. But the truth about it though is there's a cost to telling the truth. There's a cost to it. Otherwise everyone would tell the truth all the time. It's hard. We said it, if you know there's a product better than yours for a certain client, there's a cost to telling them that. They could go and buy that other product and you could lose sales. It could hurt your bottom line. You can alienate certain clients. Sometimes just being honest can offend people. You always try to be honest in the right way. You don't want to be offensive but you can alienate people. Some companies pay the price and just try to do the right thing or some people at companies and others just tell an easy lie to get out of a situation. Being dishonest or telling those little lies or leaving out part of the truth can increase your sales short term. Glossing over product flaws, shortening projected timelines, saying yes to everything when you're in the sales stage, it can seem like a small cost, a small lie in high stakes industries and you can make a sale. But I think that people usually know when they're being lied to or at the very least it ends up coming out in the end and people find out. There was a story and I actually found this in my research. I didn't actually know this but apparently several years ago, the gas gauges in some cars at the manufacturer's level were calibrated to make it seem closer to empty than it actually was. Car makers figured, well, that'll give the driver a greater sense of urgency to go find a gas station and keep them from running out of gas. And it was deceiving them. It wasn't giving them truthful information. They were doing it to try to do something in the customer's best interest but was that actually something they had the right to do, to give you false information about where your gas tank level is? And you're taking away their right to make their own decision on it.
Angel Leon: Absolutely not. I don't agree with that at all. That's terrible.
Malinda Lowder: Yeah. And they weren't trying to manipulate somebody into buying more gas or buying gas at different places. It was just a deception and people don't like being lied to. They'd rather make their own decisions based on data that's given to them.
Angel Leon: Yeah. The urgency of being below, I get very, very irritated when my car is below a quarter of a tank. I can't imagine what it would be if your car deceitfully tells you that you're way less than what you should have. I would be panicking on the road and that's not a good thing for drivers. That's definitely not a good thing.
Malinda Lowder: Yeah, definitely. There's consequences to telling the truth, that's part of why we do lie, why companies lie. It can scare people off. It can offend your customers. You could alienate people. Even if you just dedicate yourself to transparency, you're likely to lose one or two customers by the things that you're putting out there. But sometimes maybe it wasn't the right fit for you anyway. If you lose a customer for telling the truth, it's probably not a relationship that would have worked out. And sometimes it's best to let that go. But there's a lot of benefits to telling the truth. It improves workplace culture. Culture is based on honesty. Generally longterm are happier and you have a lot better camaraderie. You create a positive reputation in the community. You can establish a more meaningful relationship with your customers if they know you're being honest with you and they don't have to question you every time. And then you get a lot more word of mouth and reputation going around and it helps you stand out. Once a company has been labeled as deceptive in some practice, that can follow you around for quite a while.
Angel Leon: Yeah. And when it's the other way around, when it's a company that's been labeled as honest, as somebody that you can trust, at the same time, it can follow you around and word of mouth I've always thought it's probably one of the best advertising and marketing tools that any company can have because when you go to XYZ store or when you go purchase XYZ vehicle or purchase from XYZ anything, and you feel good about the purchase, you're going to tell others about it. And that to me is the biggest driver of getting customers towards your doors. When you see that goodwill of the people, when you hear somebody else good mouthing a business, a company, I think that's as powerful if not more powerful than actually seeing an ad on TV during, I don't know, Superbowl Sunday.
Malinda Lowder: Yeah, all marketing is personal. All marketing is local in the end because a person is going to make the buying decision and you need to develop a relationship with that person even if you're a very large brand. Still I say, all marketing is local, all marketing is personal. And if you don't see that and see how the truth ties into that, then you're probably going to struggle a little bit. I just honestly believe that.
Angel Leon: Yeah. No, I agree. An example of that comes to mind and because we have here in Indiana, we have a car manufacturer, global car manufacturer that manufactures several models of their cars here in Indiana. And when you're driving down the highway, you see these ads, X car, home grown in Indiana. And so that resonates with people. That probably makes them geared towards buying from that car manufacturer. As you were mentioning, that's personal because from people that live here, from people that are original Hoosiers they feel connected because hey, that vehicle is made right here at home, made by people who live here, who grew up here. That makes it personal. That makes it a lot more closer to the heart.
Malinda Lowder: Yep. 100%. That's exactly how it works.
Angel Leon: Yes. And on that note, Malinda, it's been a pleasure having you here today at ASCII Anything to talk about truth in business. This has been very enlightening.
Malinda Lowder: Awesome. Thank you very much. I had a great time.
Angel Leon: Thank you for listening in to this week's edition of ASCII Anything, presented by Moser Consulting. We hope you enjoyed listening to our conversation about truth in business with Malinda Lowder. Join us next week when we continue to dive deeper with our resident experts in what they're currently working on. And remember, if you have an idea or a topic you'd like us to explore, please reach out to us through our social media channels. In the meantime, please remember to give us a rating and subscribe to our feed wherever you get your podcasts. Until then, remember you can handle the truth. So long everybody.
Honesty is the best policy and in business, it's legally required. Moser Consulting's Marketing Lead, Malinda Lowder, stops by this week to discuss lies and the lying liars who tell them. So, grab your fireproof pants and tune in.