Life Coaches: Is It Ever Ok To Lie To A Client?

The image in this post is one of my favorite quotes of all time because it beautiful sums up the fact that things, actions, events etc only have a meaning if we ascribe one to them.

Good and bad don’t exist in nature, they are merely man made constructs to satisfy our brains constant urge for binary information.

The reality is there is no reality other than the one we perceive.

When I asked the question, “Do you think it’s possible to lie with integrity?  on Facebook it stirred up some fierce debate with most people only seeing this as a yes or no answer.

As a Life Coach (and presuming you do values work) you will frequently see either ‘Honesty’ or ‘Dishonesty’ on a clients list of core values or anti-values.

Society Is Inherently Dishonest

As a Society we are inherently dishonest and trying to keep a client in alignment with honesty is not an easy thing to do.

We are all being lied to on an hour by hour basis, but we are tacitly accept it because for the most part it’s in plain site, it’s the norm not the exception.

  • Large businesses lie about experiencing higher than normal call volume
  • Parents lie to kids and kids lie to parents
  • Your clients will lie to you – trust me on this one!
  • Food manufacturers lie when they say they only use the finest ingredients
  • Self development gurus lie – a lot!
  • Doctors lie to patients and patients lie to doctors
  • Large stores lie when they tell you every sale is their biggest sale ever
  • Pharmaceutical companies lie about the efficacy of their drugs and and by trying to manipulate clinical trials
  • Realtors lie about the the homes they are looking to sell you
  • Cosmetic companies lie about the capabilities of their products
  • People lie on their tax forms
  • Toy manufacturers lie about being taken back by demand for their products in the run up to Christmas*
  • Car sales people are trained to lie and deceive
  • Bloggers lie to attract readers
  • Politicians lie
  • Insurance companies lie when they tell you your claim isn’t covered hoping you won’t resubmit it
  • SEO companies lie when they say they can guarantee to get you on the first page of Google
  • Store assistants lie when they tell you, you look fabulous in that dress
  • Teachers lie to kids and kids lie to teachers

Not all of the above are for nefarious reasons by the way.

I know prominent figures within our industry who lie in an attempt to motivate. They quote apocryphal stories or miss out certain crucial information that would lessen the impact.

Their motives are good and they want to hep people, but they are still lying, or not being entirely truthful.

There are certain processes that I use with clients that have a very high success rate. However, none can be said to work every time for every person, so when I tell a client this will get you there or that will help you make the shift I am technically lying.

But here’s the rub.

I also know that if I say to a client, “Let’s try this because I know it has a 70% success rate” that I am risking shaking their belief system because most people in such situations have a tendency to think they are in the 30% group.

The Power Of Belief

The human belief system is an amazing and incredibly powerful thing.

It’s why when patients who are given placebos in place of anti-depressants in clinical trails they see eerily similar rates of success as the people given the ‘real’ drugs.

Alternative treatments like  EFT, Reiki, Healing Touch and homeopathic medicine have never been proven to be effective scientifically and neither have some NLP techniques.

Yet there are people who swear by them and millions claim to have received relief after receiving such treatments.

You can’t dispute the data, only the interpretation of the data and millions of people claiming something works cannot be ignored.

Norman Cousins cured an incurable disease (ankylosing spondylitis) and then heart disease by taking massive doses of Vitamin C and watching Marx Brothers movies.

Yet it has been proven Vitamin C even in such huge amounts achieves nothing at a physiological level.

Laughter releases dopamine and serotonin and as such reduces stress which inhibits recovery, but there’s nothing to inhibit with a supposedly incurable diseases and no evidence to suggest that it can help cure heart disease.

Lissa Rankin talks in her very intriguing book Mind Over Medicine about hundreds of reported cases of spontaneous remission in terminally ill patients.

The only common denominator with all the recoveries was ‘Belief’

When I do a consult with a prospective client I am very hands off. I won’t promise anything.

I won’t tell them I can deliver what they want and I won’t ever, ever push them into to signing up with me.

However, once they become a client all bets are off. I’ll probably not outright lie if asked point blank, but I will withhold information.

Somebody on Facebook told me that to lie to somebody, even with the best intentions, means you are assuming you know what is right for that person.

Life Coaches Work To A Clients Agenda

It’s not like that in a coaching environment because we don’t presume. We allow our clients to tell us what’s right for them and work to their agenda, not ours.

Supposing I have a client who comes for help in removing a phobia of snakes. It’s not work I really seek these days, but lets suppose I do.

I know that The Fast Phobia Cure works in about 75% of cases, but I also know there is no scientific proof of why it works other than the persons belief system.

Am I going to start by saying, “Well we could try this and it might work because it often does, but I’m not really sure”?

Of course not because what I have done is planted a seed of doubt before I have even started.

What I’d be more likely to say is something along the lines of:

“This is an amazing process that has been adopted by thousands of therapists and I even cured my sisters fear of snakes with it and she couldn’t even say the word. I’m just concerned you may want to start hugging snakes afterward, so promise me you won’t try to make friends with a rattlesnake if you see one, ok?”

That’s a lie.

Yes it has been adopted by thousands of therapists and yes my sister was cured by it, but I know damn well the client won’t want to hug a snake afterward, it doesn’t make people stupid.

But what I do know is I have just shot her belief system through the roof and the chances of it working have just gone from 75% to about 95%.

Of course I may look like a total muppet if it doesn’t work (that’s never happened yet by the way), but I’m prepared to take that risk to help my client.

Honesty isn’t black and white as people want to think it is.

  • Churchill lied to parliament to mislead Hitler with disinformation, was he wrong?
  • Millions of parents lie to their kids about Santa, are they wrong?
  • Would you lie to a Police office and give a friend an alibi if you knew unequivocally they hadn’t committed the crime they were being questioned about?
  • Would you lie to a seriously ill friend that you think they look a bit better knowing that you will increase their likelihood of recovery by lowering the stress response?
  • Would you lie to a client if you knew that by doing so you’re helping them in the long run?

I get the people who say ‘No!’ I really do and I have zero argument with them because it’s a judgment call.

I also get the argument that it could be a slippery slope and where do you draw the line?

That’s a tricky question to answer, in fact it’s impossible for me.

My only answer is a lot of experience and my own moral compass which dictates if am I doing this for me (a huge no-no) or am I doing this to help a client.

It’s not something I do very often and I understand some people will be appalled because it sure aint something they teach you in Life Coach Training.

However, I’m not really bothered about what other people think of me, I’m just bothered about helping my clients and I like to think those people who hire me know that.

So what’s you take? Appalled, in agreement or on the fence?

* The reason they do this by the way is because they want kids clamoring for their toys to such an extent that when their frustrated parents can’t acquire the new hot item they promise to buy they one after Christmas.

What’s cunning about that you may wonder? Well, what parents doesn’t want their kid to have a present or presents to open on Christmas Day? So they buy something else as well and  the toy companies get a double dip and also extra sales in January which is typically their slowest month of the year. Deceitful eh?

Image: ‘Pinocchio’ Courtesy of Ferran Jordà


  1. Bill Thornhill

    Great post and a rather brave one in some ways. I’m on the side of what’s best for the client in the long run. After all that’s the whole point of the job isn’t it?