8 Types of Liars

Read about 8 common types of liars ranging on a spectrum from the very worst (the pathological liar) to the least harmful, the well-meaning tactful liar.

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I find the psychology of lying fascinating. So, while browsing research devoted solely to falsehoods (on which I’ll write a future post), I started to reflect on the different types of liars I’ve met throughout the years.

This led to a Google search (“types of liars”) to see if it’s a thing. And it is… kinda – for example, there’s the sociopathic liar vs. the occasional liar vs. the white liar… all different types of liars.

The different types of liars can be categorized as ranging on a spectrum from pathological (the very worst type of liar) on one end, to tactful (the least harmful type of liar) on the opposite end (while taking into consideration, of course, the various reasons people lie.)


In this article, I describe the 8 types of liars I’ve encountered, both as a professional counselor and in my personal life.

 

Types of Liars

1. The pathological liar

This person lies constantly, for any reason, or for no reason at all. They don’t know when they’re lying and they’re incapable of being honest with not only others, but with themselves. Due to this, it’s impossible to have an authentic relationship with the pathological liar; their reality shifts on a whim.

What I consider pathological lying is what others may refer to as sociopathic. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), repeated lying is a criterion for diagnosing antisocial personality disorder (formerly known as sociopathy or psychopathy).

The pathological liar isn’t necessarily dangerous or cruel, but they’ll never be someone you can trust. The pathological liar, providing they have other redeeming qualities, is a suitable acquaintance, but never a loyal friend, partner, or spouse.

2. The intentional liar

This type of liar enjoys pushing your buttons. They lie for the fun of it – for the sake of entertainment. It makes them feel powerful and in control. The people they lie to are their pawns. They often desire an audience.

While the intentional liar is similar to the pathological liar in some ways, they differ in that they’re fully aware of their untruths. The intentional liar is the high school quarterback who asks the least popular girl to prom… and then tells her it was just a prank – in front of all his friends.

Sometimes, the intentional liar poses as a jokester, but they’re malicious and cruel.

They fib to get a reaction and then say (in a mean-spirited way), “I was just f—ing with you!” Sometimes, the intentional liar poses as a jokester, but they’re malicious and cruel. The only reason they’re not ranked higher than the pathological liar is that by possessing awareness, they at least have the capacity to change.

3. The manipulative liar

They lie to get what they want. They have an end goal and will do or say whatever it takes to achieve it.

They often use flattery or say what they think you want to hear in order to get a promotion, make a sale, get elected… or get in your pants.

Like the pathological liar, you won’t know where you stand with the manipulative liar. (Does she think you’re witty? Or does she like free dinner?) The manipulative liar is not malicious, but they can still cause harm. They have no place in your life.

 

4. The protective liar

They’ll go to any length to protect a secret, be it the murder of their lover’s wife or a demotion at work.

This type of liar is at times dangerous, but can also be perceived as noble; it all depends on what (or who) they’re protecting. They’ll go to any length to protect a secret, be it the murder of their lover’s wife or a demotion at work. They have no moral objections to lying as long as it serves their purpose.

They may protect your secrets as well, making them a loyal friend or spouse.

The danger lies in who or what they choose to protect. This type of liar may posses dark secrets that would shake you to the core if revealed. You’ll never know what they keep hidden and therefore, you’ll never (fully) know who they are. Their secret could be as benign as a childhood stutter… or it could be devastating and unspeakable, such as carrying on a secret love affair with your best friend or a past as a child sexual molester.

5. The avoidant liar

Instead of being straightforward, they make excuses or dance around the truth.

They strive to avoid anything they find unpleasant; instead of being honest, they offer partial truths or deflect. It could be that the avoidant liar is evading conflict or doesn’t want to complete a particular task. Maybe they don’t want to be judged. Instead of being straightforward, they make excuses or dance around the truth.

For example, the avoidant liar who opts out of a family dinner because they can’t stand their mother-in-law pleads a migraine. Or the avoidant liar who oversleeps and is late to work tells their boss they got a flat tire. And the avoidant liar who drunkenly spills red wine on the white carpet blames it on the dog.

Avoidant liars are frustrating because they often don’t say what they mean; you can never be sure if you’re getting the truth, a half truth, or a made-up excuse.

6. The impressive liar

They aim to impress. This person might not see themselves as a liar; they may not even realize they’re being deceitful. They fabricate to gain the approval of others. They may stretch the truth to make a story a bit funnier. They fake a feeling to seem more self-assured than they are.

Lying to impress is more of a habit than a conscious act. The impressive liar believes their own stories after telling them time after time. (For example, after multiple retellings of a bar fight, the impressive liar actually believes that he knocked out three burly bikers, when in reality, he broke his fist attempting to punch the bartender for cutting him off.)

Impressive liars are mostly harmless, but can be annoying, especially when they’re obviously fibbing. They pose little risk… but why spend time with someone who feels the need to pretend to be something they’re not?

7. The lazy liar

Sometimes, speaking candidly requires an explanation. The lazy liar streamlines the truth because it’s less complicated than giving the full narrative.

The lazy liar doesn’t share the full story; rather, they opt to recount the edited “movie version” of the truth as opposed to the 700-page book version.

For example, saying, “I was late because I grabbed the wrong report” is easier than “I’m late because after I grabbed the report, I realized one page was missing, and when I went back, I had to reprint the entire report because the page numbers were off and the heading was on a separate sheet. I then stopped to use the bathroom.” (Not worth the effort, right?)

Lazy lying is (relatively) harmless. The lazy liar doesn’t share the full story; rather, they opt to recount the edited “movie version” of the truth as opposed to the 700-page book version. (The only time lazy lying can be problematic is when the lazy liar deems a detail unimportant when it is, in fact, imperative.)

 

8. The tactful liar

They are considerate and well-meaning. They offer overly-optimistic reassurances when things aren’t going well and find themselves saying things like, “It wasn’t that bad” (even when yes, it was indeed that bad).

They’re pleasant to be around. Your plus-sized butt will never look fat in jeans and your disastrous dye job will be “edgy,” not “traffic-cone orange.”

What they lack in candor, they make up for in amiability.

You also won’t know when there’s spinach in your teeth, if your fly is down, when your breath is bad, or if your PowerPoint presentation was dull.

The tactful liar has the best of intentions; they don’t want to upset you or hurt your feelings. What they lack in candor, they make up for in amiability.


An honorable mention for the heroic (self-sacrificing) liar. This type of liar is exceedingly rare, which is why they’re not included with the eight more common types of liars. The heroic liar is similar to the protective liar in that they’ll go to extremes to protect, but in their case, they lie to defend (or safeguard) someone they love (or to save a stranger even, if they believe it’s the right thing to do).

For example, if two children (brothers) are playing, and the youngest breaks a lamp, the older (heroic liar) will take the blame to save the younger from a spanking.

The heroic liar’s place on the spectrum would fall at the very end, past the well-meaning liar.


Can you relate to any of the above liars? Maybe you’re personally acquainted with one (or several) of them?



Leave your thoughts in a comment and share this post with your favorite liars!


5 Powerful Things Counseling Taught Me (Part Two)

Learn to be more effective in your personal and professional life! This is the second installment of how counseling has led to a better understanding of people. Working with addiction and mental illness has gifted me with the capacity to better recognize why people do what they do, which in turn enhances how I relate to others.

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This is the second installment of life lessons counseling taught me. Being a therapist has led me to a better understanding of humanity and myself. (In Part One, I discussed life lessons on calmness, silence, active listening, partial truths, and hidden agendas.)

Working with addiction and mental illness has gifted me with the capacity to better recognize why people do what they do, which in turn enhances how I relate to others. As a result, I’m more effective in my personal and professional life. I have a sense of peace and “okayness” in the world.

One thing I hadn’t previously considered was brought up by Quora user and mental health professional, G. Bernard (MA Counseling); he shared that counseling revealed the truth about change. “It has really reinforced that idea that people who want change will work harder to achieve it; those who are forced (legally, by parents, spouse etc.) probably won’t.” 

I agree with this 100%. People can’t be forced into change; and when they are, their efforts lack fortitude and it doesn’t last. Those who are internally motivated will fight for change, making it worthwhile and enduring.

Here are additional truths and life lessons I gained through my counseling career.

What counseling taught me (the second installment of life lessons):

1. A new perspective

The DSM – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the “Bible” for mental health professionals) – uncovered a whole new world for me. Sure, I was familiar with mental illnesses like depression, PTSD, and anxiety before grad school. I took Abnormal Psych in college and even before that, I’d read books on schizophrenia, eating disorders, and other mental disorders. (Guess who did their middle school science project on schizophrenia? Me!)

But my fleeting knowledge was laughable compared to what I found in the DSM; it provided me with information on every single diagnosable mental disorder. When I started working with clients, I was able to see how mental illness manifests in real life.

The more I learned (and saw), the more I was able to make sense of behaviors. Consequently, this led to me looking back on people I’ve encountered throughout the years. I realized how many of them had been struggling with a mental illness. (At the time, I probably just thought they were just a jerk, or acting inconsiderately.)

I also became more aware of the prevalence of severe mental illness and the way it presents in society. This led to increased tolerance and patience regarding behaviors I’d previous found annoying; counseling taught me to recognize them for what they were.

Mental illness can easily be interpreted as something it’s not. By having an awareness, I’m more compassionate. Instead of judging, I observe. Someone who seems snobby may have social anxiety. That coworker who calls out sick every Monday may be struggling with addiction. A friend who never wants to go out anymore could be depressed.

Mental illness is everywhere if you know what to look for. Counseling taught me to strive to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, which is better for my mental health.

2. Don’t give money to the homeless

I worked with a client at a residential program who had an amazing talent for creating clever signs. He’d use markers to write his message (“Will dance for food!”) on a piece of cardboard before grabbing his pail to hit the streets. He didn’t need the money; he received government benefits (funded by taxpayers). The money he earned panhandling funded his K2 habit or the occasional beer.

Many of the “homeless” people you meet are not homeless; they’re con men (or women) who make a profit on your sympathy. Some are either addicted to drugs/alcohol and/or severely mentally ill; they need treatment, not the crinkled dollar bill in your pocket. Giving your spare change isn’t helping that person. Instead, offer to buy a meal, give them a pair of socks, or hand them a bottle of water.

3. Telling someone what to do is not helpful

Giving advice rarely leads to lasting change.

There are a few different reasons why advice, no matter how well-meaning, isn’t helpful. Firstly, it doesn’t account for the person’s full experience or struggle; it could seem ignorant or insensitive. (For example, “Why don’t you just get a divorce?” is not helpful to a woman struggling with her husband’s infidelity; the problem is more complex than just getting a divorce. Children could be involved. Maybe she’s financially dependent on her husband. Maybe she’s still in love with him. Or maybe it’s against her religious beliefs.)

Advice also robs a person of the ability to solve their own problem. We need to learn to find solutions in life in order to grow and to be effective. If someone is always told what to do, they’re not going to learn to function independently.

Lastly, if advice is taken, and it works, the credit goes to the advice giver, not the taker. The results are less meaningful. Alternatively, if advice is taken and it doesn’t work, it becomes the advice giver’s fault. Advice deprives a person of being able to take full ownership of their actions.

Counseling taught me that if you own your decision and fail, the blame falls on you (helping you to grow as a person) or if you succeed, the triumph is yours alone. Either way, you’re better off finding your own solutions; this allows you to feel capable and you’ll become better at solving problems in the future.

4. The value of transparency and honesty

Counseling taught me that people like to know what’s happening and what to expect. I get better reactions from clients when I explain why I’m doing or saying what I am. I’m honest, and when I can’t be (or believe it would be inappropriate to do so), I tell clients exactly that. For example, if a client asks about my religion, I’d let them know I don’t feel comfortable sharing personal aspects of my life.

Personally, I prefer the company of others who are straightforward. I don’t like having to guess if someone is upset with me. I don’t like it when someone is nice to my face, but gossips when I’m not around. Those types of games are played by people who are insecure or who are attempting to manipulate you. Life is complicated enough. With me, you’ll know if your fly is down, and if you ask for my opinion, you’ll get it. (There’s much to be said for tact though!) Gentle truths are worth more than flattery. 

5. You can’t demand respect

It’s something that’s earned through words and actions, not freely given. Forced respect is not true respect; it’s fear or deception. And while I believe in treating everyone with respect, I don’t truly respect someone until I know what kind of person they are.

Furthermore, I’ve learned that if someone chooses to disrespect me, it’s not a threat. Respect is powerful, but disrespect? Feeble and pathetic. If someone is disrespectful, it won’t harm you or make you less of a person (unless you give it that control).

Throughout my career, I’ve been disrespected on many, many occasions by clients who don’t want to be in treatment (and even by colleagues with differing opinions). Counseling taught me that my sense of self-worth is not dependent on how others treat me. As a result, disrespect from angry clients (or rude salespersons or drivers who cut me off, etc.) doesn’t faze me.


In sum, being a counselor is life-changing. I imagine many professions are to a degree, but I can’t picture any other job leading to such a deep understanding of humanity. Entering the mental health field is like having horrible vision and then finally getting glasses (except it happens over the course of years). I have an enhanced awareness of who I am along with an unforeseen sense of serenity. 

Every single client who’s shared a piece of their story has contributed to my awareness (and to my own personal growth), and I owe them gratitude for the life lessons I received. I’m more cautious in life, yes, but I’m also more compassionate. Instead of having high expectations, I have high hopes. I don’t attempt to control things I have no control over; and I don’t get angry over the decisions, views, or actions of others. Instead, I channel my energy into something more productive; I’m passionate and I’m an advocate. My beauty pageant answer to the stereotypical question is not “world peace”; it’s for everyone to have a deeper understanding of each other.

What life lessons have you learned in your career? Please share in a comment!


5 Powerful Things Counseling Taught Me (Part One)

Counseling is generous in that it’s supplied me with the tools needed for not only professional growth, but personal success, emotional well-being, personal development, and effective communication. It’s also taught me about various aspects of human nature, from the brightest to the murkiest.

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In grad school, I learned theories and techniques of counseling. I learned basic and advanced counseling skills; I practiced various interventions and methods. My professors taught developmental theories and multicultural competence. I took classes in career counseling, family counseling, and couples counseling; I studied research and ethics.

And when I accepted a substance abuse counselor position at a drug and alcohol treatment center… I had no clue what I was doing… or how to be a counselor. I went into my first year as a clinician with self-doubt and uncertainty.

Negative thoughts consumed me. I questioned myself and wondered if I was in the right field.

“Do I have what it takes to be an effective counselor?” 

“Should I have pursued a career in research instead?” 

“Should I have pursued anything instead?” 

“Am I capable of helping others?” 

Furthermore, social anxiety crippled my ability to relate to clients; being genuine was difficult. I couldn’t stop comparing myself to other “seasoned” clinicians, which only made things worse.

Gradually, my doubts and fears subsided; I felt more comfortable in my role. I accepted and settled into my new identity as a professional counselor; it was a good fit. I stopped trying to “fix” or control clients.

Anxiety no longer dictated my actions; I found a way to take ownership of my mistakes and accomplishments. Moreover, I learned to be okay with making mistakes. I accepted that I would never have all the answers. I let go of irrational beliefs that had previously plagued me. I thrived.

Today, I can reflect on my journey and on the positive changes I’ve made throughout the years. My chosen career is generous in that it’s supplied me with the tools needed for not only professional growth, but personal growth — success, emotional well-being, personal development, and effective communication.

I’ve learned a lot the past ten years. This post explores the discoveries I’ve made and how I apply that knowledge to my life. But before delving into what I’ve learned, here’s what a few other clinicians have said on the topic:

Nancy Lee, MA, LPCC, Psychotherapist in Aurora, CO

“Being a counselor has shown me that it’s possible to live on the edge of what I know and don’t know. In a single moment, I can feel strong and confident, yet small and humble. Counseling isn’t about fixing problems. It’s about believing in my client’s capacity to connect with their own solutions, insight, and growth.”

Robert Martin, M.Ed Early Childhood Education & Counseling, Francis Marion University

“There is no learning … if there is not a relationship… The foundation of counseling and teaching is [the] relationship. There must be a connection. The student must know that you care about them personally and it is ok to make a mistake … Consequences and corrections can be given, but always directed at the behavior [and] never the person … That you are only talking about their behavior when you correct them … and not them. They must feel that you respect them … and if you make a mistake say, “I’m so sorry. I made a mistake.” … [Always respect] their differences, their hopes and weakness, their failures, their dreams, their divinity. There is nothing more important than this…”

Bridget Cameron, Artist, Depth Psychologist, Stress Counselor (1992-present)

“To accept people as they are, to be non-judgmental, to be directed by compassion, and to know how to be impartial so that I am fair-minded with all people and do not project any of myself into my client’s history and am non-attached to the outcome.”

In comparison, while I’ve learned much about compassion, connecting, and being okay with being wrong, I’ve also learned how to use counseling to be effective, both personally and professionally… and I’ve learned to be more guarded due to the darker aspects of human nature.


Here’s my list of small wisdoms, or, what counseling has taught me (the first installment):

1. How to remain calm

Emotion regulation was difficult for me as an adolescent and young adult. My emotions ruled me – lorded over me, even! Then, as a counselor, I observed emotion disregulation in clients. I realized how truly counterproductive (and ridiculous-looking) it can be.

I made a choice to stop engaging in negativity, with both self and with others. Feeding into an argument solves nothing, but the effort leaves you emotionally and physically drained. Luckily, my personal transition from chaos to calm was painless. By the time I learned how to remain calm, I was in my mid-20s; the intensity of my emotions had already naturally subsided. Today, calmness is my natural state.

2. Comfortable silence

In grad school, I learned to use silence as a counseling technique. Instead of filling up every minute of a session with reflections, open-ended questions, and paraphrases, we were encouraged to use “comfortable silence.”

Silence allows the client time to process and/or collect their thoughts. To me, it always felt horribly awkward (remember, social anxiety!) and wrong. I wanted to rush on to the next topic or to ask a question or… anything.

I’m not sure when it finally stopped feeling awkward. I just knew that one day I was sitting in silence with a client and it felt natural. Today, I use silence in my professional and personal life all the time. It feels nice to sit quietly and not feel pressured to talk.

3. Active listening

Counseling taught me to really listen. I learned to quiet my internal dialogue to hear and comprehend what’s being said. Instead of thinking about how I’m going to respond, I give my full attention to the speaker. I’m aware of body language and other nonverbals. Counseling has strengthened my communication skills.

4. Partial truths

Counseling taught me that people don’t always say what they mean. They often tell partial truths. There are many reasons for this: Fear of being judged, not fully trusting the therapist, feeling embarrassed, etc.

For example, a client who isn’t ready to change their drinking probably wouldn’t tell me they drink three bottles of wine every night. Instead, they’d offer a partial truth. “I usually drink a glass of wine with dinner, but that’s it.”

Partial truths are not lies; they allow for a certain measure of comfort. (A lot of people feel uncomfortable with lying because they were taught it was wrong, or possibly because they view themselves as honest – and honest people don’t lie.) Partial truths, on the other hand, don’t feel wrong (or less wrong, at least). Plus, they’re safe. A person can be partially truthful and still protect their secrets.

When I realized how common partial truths are, I changed the way I listened to clients… and to everyone. Instead of taking things at face value, I listen to what is being said while recognizing that much more is not being said.

5. Hidden agendas

I also discovered that there are plenty of people out there who seek counseling with hidden agendas. For example, a man sees a therapist, stating he wants to learn anger management techniques. What he doesn’t reveal is that he’s abusive to his wife. He recently lost control in an argument and pushed her down the stairs. She gave him an ultimatum: Therapy or divorce. He doesn’t believe he needs counseling, but he’ll do it to save his marriage. And he doesn’t tell his therapist this (of course). Why would he? It’s none of her business.

Both partial truths and hidden agendas happen outside of therapy (and for similar reasons). Words paint a very limited piece of the entire picture. People often show only what they want others to see while keeping their true motives hidden.

Because of counseling, I have a better awareness and understanding of why hidden agendas (and partial truths) exist. It’s not cynicism, but a form of acceptance. I recognize that half truths and hidden agendas serve a purpose. While I may never understand their purpose, I’m okay with it.

This awareness fosters caution; I’ll never be caught off guard.


There’s more to tell, but for the sake of keeping this post to a reasonable length, I’ll save my remaining insights of things counseling taught me for the second installment of this post (in which I’ll discuss giving money to the homeless and demanding respect, among other “lessons” from counseling).

Why “Playing Hardball” Doesn’t Work

How can you consistently get great results with customer service representatives? Hint: “Playing hardball” doesn’t work. Instead, use seven basic counseling skills to get the best deal.

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Years ago, I was visiting new friends at their home to watch a college football game on TV. (It should be noted that I’m not a big sports fan, but my at-the-time boyfriend was.) The game was pay-per-view (pre-ordered through the cable company).

We were relaxing in the living room, eating snacks and chatting, waiting to watch some football. When the game didn’t play as scheduled, they called the cable company… and much to my dismay, the male friend starting yelling and cursing at the customer service representative.

I felt embarrassed, and couldn’t help thinking how awful it would feel to be on the receiving end of that call. (It’s not like it was the representative’s fault, afterall.)

At one point, my angry friend got too worked up and ended up handing the phone over to his female counterpart. I thought, Thank god! She’ll smooth this over... And then she proceeded to shout and curse! Yikes.

What is it that makes people treat another human being like scum? Why does the belief persist that belittling, cursing, intimidating, i.e. “playing hardball,” is the way to go?

More recently, my husband and I went to a store to pick up an item he’d ordered online. He had previously called the store to ensure he’d be able to use a gift card for part of the balance, and was assured he could.

Upon arrival, we were informed that since his credit card had already been charged, there was no way to apply the gift card to his purchase. My husband was soooo mad! His typically easy-going, relaxed demeanor changed. He started arguing with the clerk; he was rude and sarcastic. Naturally, the clerk became defensive (and somewhat defiant). I wanted to disappear. My husband ended up paying full price for the item. The clerk’s day was probably ruined. I wondered if things would have turned out differently had my husband been his usual friendly self.

Why it is widely believed that playing hardball is the best approach for getting what you want?


Why Playing Hardball Doesn’t Work

Think about what motivates you to go out of your way to help; maybe you’re inspired to assist someone in need because they’re friendly (and likeable). Or maybe you feel sorry for them. Maybe you want to help them because they’ve helped you in some way or shown you a kindness; you’re happy to return the favor.

It’s much less likely you’re motivated to help the angry guy who insults you. So why would it be different with customer service? Customer service reps are human, and therefore deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

In my experience, consideration and good manners (thanks, Mom!) go a long way with customer service. Not once have I yelled or threatened. And I (almost) always get optimal results.

By utilizing one or more of the following therapeutic techniques, you can be more effective when returning an item without a receipt, requesting a lower interest rate, or asking your cable company for a better deal.

Use these 7 counseling skills to receive optimal customer service

1. Unconditional positive regard

Instead of bracing yourself for the worst, anticipate that they’ll be able to help.

As a professional counselor, I value my clients while appreciating their unique perspectives and views.

This same principle can be applied to conversations with a customer service representative. Approach them with respect. Appreciate the services they provide. Treat them with courtesy. Rather than, “I need this issue resolved,” try, “Hi [their name], how is your day going?”

Don’t brace for the worst, but anticipate that you’ll receive the help you need. Instead of an aggressive hardball approach, open with, “I’m hoping you’re the person who can help me with…” It’s likely the person you’re speaking with will strive to live up to your expectations; they will be the person who can help you.

2. Empathy

Empathy, the ability to understand another’s perspective and sense their emotions, is crucial to all helping relationships. Empathy is not sympathy or feeling sorry for someone. Sympathy pities; empathy empowers.

Empathy has the potential to open the door for exploration and healing.

To illustrate, I’ll discuss empathy’s role in counseling. Imagine a client who’s afraid she’ll be deemed selfish or weak for contemplating suicide. She recently lost her job and is going through a horrific divorce. She feels worthless; she thinks the world would be better off without her.

Empathy drops you into in her shoes and allows you to experience her anguish. To convey empathy, I’d say, “I can see you’re in a tremendous amount of pain. It’s gotten so bad, suicide seems like the only solution.” Empathy validates her suffering and recognizes that her pain is unbearable. Empathy has the potential to open the door for exploration and healing. (In contrast, the opposite approach would be to scold her, to tell her “it’s not that bad,” or to say she’s only looking for attention. All of those things are harmful and would invalidate her struggle.)

When applied to customer service, empathy acknowledges the experience of being a service representative. If you’re empathetic, you understand what they feel. You recognize the challenges of dealing with angry customers who yell or threaten (like my football-loving friends).

Furthermore, unlike playing hardball, which creates resistance, fear, and defiance, empathy promotes helping behaviors. Convey empathy by saying, “I can’t imagine what you must deal with.” Or “I imagine this job requires a lot of patience.” Empathy has also been linked to persuasiveness.

On the flip side, if the customer service rep empathizes with you, you may have a better chance of convincing them to grant your request, at least according to one study.

3. Genuineness

With clients, I say what I mean. I share what I’m thinking or feeling. I’m myself, flaws and all. Genuineness promotes trust and strengthens the therapeutic relationship.

When talking to a customer service rep, don’t put on an act by playing hardball. Don’t play tough and/or make threats. That’s not how you’d treat a co-worker or an acquaintance (at least, I would hope not?)

And don’t play dumb. Instead of, “I had no idea my payment was late,” try, “My payment was two days late, but since this is the first time, would you consider waiving the fee?” You could also explain your situation: “Honestly, I’ve always been happy with your services, but since the rates went up, I’ve been thinking about canceling. I’ve researched [competing company] and they have better rates. I’m not sure if I can afford your services anymore.” The rep would probably be able to relate (and even empathize), which translates to a better outcome for you.

4. Call them by name

Dale Carnegie said, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” While using a name isn’t a “textbook” counseling skill, what it conveys is.

Using a name conveys respect. It makes that person feel important and valued. Speaking a person’s name also commands their attention. In a counseling session, to make the greatest impact with my words, I’ll say the client’s name before sharing a thought. A name is powerful.

The hardball approach is often dismissive; instead, repeat the rep’s name after they introduce themselves to help you remember. (Write it down if you’re on the phone.) Use their name throughout the conversation. Someone who feels respected, important, and valued is more likely to help than someone who feels disrespected, unimportant, and unappreciated.

5. Patience

Patience is invaluable in counseling. I’m patient with clients who are guarded and resistant to help. I’m patient in sessions; I sometimes sit in silence, allowing for the time to process, contemplate, or sort through thoughts. I’m patient when a client isn’t progressing. (Change takes time.) Lastly, I’m patient with myself when I say the wrong thing or when it seems my efforts aren’t helping.

For the person seeking assistance from customer service, patience is an asset. Hold times can be ridiculously long. It also takes time to connect with an actual human. And when you do connect, they could say you’ve reached the wrong department. They may transfer the call to someone in a different department (who may then transfer you again). You may be placed on hold more than once (and have to explain yourself multiple times). The call could be dropped and you’d have to start the entire process over.

Alternatively, if you’re dealing with in-person customer service, the line could be long. There could be a crying baby nearby or a man with a stinky odor standing in front of you. Or maybe the person behind you keeps bumping into you. It could be too hot or too cold in the store. When you finally get to the front of the line, the clerk may not know how to help. You’d be asked to step aside and wait for the manager, which would take even more time.

Patience is an art; it can be cultivated through mindfulness and gratitude. To foster patience, anticipate that your customer service issue is going to take a considerable amount of time. Expect to run into some unforeseen snags. If you’re already rushed or in a bad mood, skip it. Instead, make that call or trip to the store when you’re relaxed and have plenty of time to spare.

6. Humor

Okay, this is another one that’s not an official counseling skill, but it’s one of my counseling skills. What’s more, research suggests that when used appropriately (and never at a client’s expense), humor is a powerful tool for healing.

In my experience, humor allows clients to open up and relax. It improves mood and helps clients to view their problems from an alternative perspective. Humor is an important coping skill and may reduce mental health symptoms. Humor connects us; laughing together fosters positivity.

Also, never underestimate the power of laughing at yourself. If you can find humor in your flaws and life fails, you can forgive yourself and move on. (It’s refreshing to not have to take yourself so seriously.) Humor makes me a better counselor… and a better person.

Humor connects us; laughing together fosters positivity.

When talking to a customer service rep, use humor instead of playing hardball. Poke fun at yourself or your inadequacies. If your issue is even slightly humorous, go ahead and make a joke about it or have a laugh.

Example: a year or so ago, I had a problem with my FitBit. According to FitBit, I was climbing hundreds of flights of stairs every day. I contacted customer service to report the issue. In my email I wrote, “Although I wish it were true, I can assure you that I have not been climbing hundreds of flights of stairs on a daily basis. Please assist.” They sent a new FitBit.

Humor generates positive feelings; research suggests that a positive mood increases helpfulness. For in-person customer service, instead of playing hardball, try smiling. A smile may increase your chances of getting the help you need. A happy customer service rep is more likely to grant your request.

7. Remain calm

Composure is the opposite of reactivity. An effective clinician is calm and serene; this promotes healing while reducing client anxiety. Moreover, it’s essential to remain calm in a crisis or with trauma work. Reactivity, on the other hand, is chaotic and ineffective.

When you react, you lose a small piece of your control. The more you react, the more out of control you feel. When fully escalated, you give up all your power; you’ve essentially handed it over to the person you’re reacting to. Furthermore, when emotions are heightened, the logical part of your brain becomes less active. You’re driven by your emotions.

In contrast, remaining calm enables you to respond instead of react. Maintaining composure will almost always benefit you in an argument.

Similarly, it’s to your benefit to remain calm when talking to a customer service rep. When playing hardball, it’s difficult to keep your cool. If you get angry or upset, you lose effectiveness. Research indicates that when negotiating, people dealing with angry counterparts are more likely to walk away from the deal. Expressing anger has limited effectiveness when employed as a negotiation strategy. If you happen to anger the customer service rep, you won’t end up getting what you want, at least according to one study.

To increase your ability to regulate your emotions, practice mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises. Neurofeedback is another tool for training your brain to remain calm.

Conclusion

In conclusion, playing hardball is rarely effective. The best strategies for getting your needs met include respect, genuineness, and empathy. Use a customer service rep’s name throughout the conversation. Be patient. Increase your likability with humor; remain calm (no matter what). The above methods will boost your odds for great customer service.


Do you have any tips for getting exceptional customer service? Share about it in a comment!

The Psychology of Motivation

What is the psychology behind motivation? This post examines the research on motivation and reviews the implications. The conclusion reached is contrary to what you may believe.

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What is motivation? According to Merriam-Webster, to motivate is “to provide with a motive.” A motive is defined as “something (such as a need or desire) that causes a person to act.”

Motivation is highly sought after in today’s society; it’s the golden ticket to success. You would think achievement (as an end result) is motive enough, but this proves to be false. We desire success, but are often unable to maintain our drive. It fades away before goals are reached. For example, a dieter is initially motivated by weight loss, improved sleep, and increased energy; these are all powerful motivators. But it’s not enough. Why?

This article is about what it is that motivates us (and why that driving force is often short-lived). (Hint: There are no secrets, tricks, or hacks.)



1. Motivation can be intrinsic (arise from within) or extrinsic (influenced by outside forces)

Intrinsic motivation is rewarded internally. An example of an intrinsic drive is pursuing the study of archeology because it holds a strong appeal or attraction. The behavior of engaging is the reward. Research establishes a strong link between interest and intrinsic motivation. Alternatively, extrinsic motivation refers to externally rewarded motives, such as writing a paper for a grade or performing well at work for a raise.

Practical application: If you’re looking to achieve a goal, but lack the drive, create an incentive. Be creative. Choose rewards that are meaningful.

2. The Role of Dopamine

Studies have found that dopamine, a neurotransmitter, plays a considerable role in drive. More recently, researchers have speculated there are specific areas in the brain responsible for motivation.

To consider: A lack of inspiration or drive could indicate chemical imbalance, especially if paired with feelings of sadness or hopelessness, fatigue, or thoughts of suicide. If debilitating, you may be depressed. Seek professional help.

3. Self-efficacy and perceived competencE

Research indicates that if you believe you can accomplish something, you’re more likely to achieve it than if you doubt yourself. This is a reoccurring theme in motivation literature. Self-efficacy is key.

Practical application: Evaluate your confidence. Do you view yourself as capable? On a scale from 1-10, how confidant are you that you can achieve [insert your goal here]? You won’t maintain the motivation to lose weight if you believe you’ll always be heavy. Self-doubt is a trap. To cultivate self-efficacy, focus on your past accomplishments and successes. Reframe negative thoughts. (Instead of This is impossible, try This is difficult, but manageable.) Increase your self-efficacy by setting – and achieving – one or two easy goals.

4. Having a sense of control leads to greater motivation

If you believe that life “happens” to you or that you are powerless to circumstances, you have an external locus of control. (This is sometimes known as learned helplessness.) It’s difficult to sustain motivation with this view. We can’t control all the variables in life, but we can control our choices and reactions. We control who and what we allow to negatively impact us. This knowledge is empowering. It allows for motivation and can foster an increased sense of efficacy.

Practical application: List or think about some undesirable aspects of your life (rent, a car accident, a difficult colleague, etc.) Select one item from your list and then write ways you can exercise control. (For example, you can’t control a difficult co-worker, but you control what you say to them, how you respond to them, and so on.) Recognize that your decisions directly impact the quality of your life.

5. Outcome value is related to motivation 

The greater the perceived value of an outcome, the stronger the motivation. If you value living in a tidy home, you will be motivated to clean. For someone who doesn’t mind a mess, a clean house holds little value.

Practical application: You want to save money, but struggle to see the immediate benefits. Create a list of all the ways saving can improve your life, both now and in the future. Consider what’s currently important to you. If it’s spending time with family, link that to saving money. (Extra savings mean you can afford to dine out or take vacations with your family.) By increasing outcome value, you may increase your level of motivation. Apply this principle to all aspects of your life.

6. Goals and deadlines are motivating

Define your outcome with a measurable goal and place a time limit on it. By defining exactly what you want (I want to lose 10 lbs.) and then giving yourself a deadline (in 3 months), you’re creating a blueprint. Having a goal map makes it easier to stay motivated by providing direction.

Practical application: When you need motivation, first consider the steps required to accomplish your goal. Be as specific as possible. And then create a deadline. (Note: Deadlines can be flexible. If you don’t meet your deadline, it’s easy to give up, leaving you the opposite of confident and effective. Instead, if a deadline isn’t met, push it back a week. Be reasonable. Revise your goal if needed. Remember to be solution-focused.)

7. Money is a motivator

Researchers discovered that cash is a driving force. Money is a classic example of an extrinsic motivator – and it’s effective. So how can you use this information?

Practical application: There are apps and programs that pay you to stay on track. An example is the Achievement app; you earn points for exercising, drinking water, sleeping, and doing other health-related activities. Once you earn 10,000, you receive $10. Additionally, the weight loss program HealthyWage pays you to lose weight. (Be careful – there’s also a chance you’ll lose money!) If you dread going to work, think about your paycheck. Lastly, to motivate employees, offer small bonuses or other cash incentives linked to performance.

8. Working together on a task enhances motivation

Working toward a common goal with a partner or a group seems to enhance motivation.

Practical application: This practice can be applied in the workplace or at school. Don’t work on projects alone; find someone who shares your enthusiasm. If you want to start an exercise routine, ask a friend (who also wants to get in shape) to hit the gym with you. It seems we’re able to inspire and motivate each other; when one person’s motivation wanes, the other’s kicks in.

9. The source of motivation changes as we pursue our goals

There’s something called “promotion” motivation. We’re good at setting goals and feeling motivated. Initially. Then, somewhere along the way, our motivation switches. It becomes “prevention” motivation. For example, the promotion motivation for losing weight may be fitting into a certain pair of jeans. When the jeans fit, the motivation becomes prevention motivation. Prevention motivation is harder to sustain.

To consider: Have a variety of motivational strategies. Recognize that motivation will change as you pursue your goals.

10. Once something becomes a habit, it persists long after motivation is gone

This may be the most valuable finding of all. With motivation, there are variables: Self-efficacy, deadlines, money, etc. A habit supersedes the variables. There will be times we lack motivation, no matter how effective we feel or how much we value the outcome. If we act out of habit, we don’t have to rely on motivation. Of course, the tricky part is creating a new habit. Habits, which are formed by repetition, reorganize information in your brain so that an action becomes automatic and is no longer tied to a motivational cue.

To consider: Researchers assert it can take anywhere from 15 to 254 days to form a habit. In addition to repetition, you must remove cues that trigger habits you’re trying to quit while adding cues that trigger desired behaviors.

In conclusion, there are many factors related to motivation including self-efficacy, outcome value, and financial incentive. Our motivation changes as we pursue goals, indicating the need for a variety of motivational strategies. We know that dopamine plays an important role and that there are structural regions in the brain responsible for motivation.


A friend of mine recently asked how I motivate myself to go to the gym when I get off work. “It has nothing to do with motivation,” I responded. “I just do it; it’s not an option not to.”

I’m fully aware I lack motivation. However, I recognize that motivation, while advantageous, is not a prerequisite for success. It’s too fickle; it lacks the staying power of habit and the might of determination.


Don’t rely on motivation to achieve your goals. Instead, invest in the determination it takes to form a habit.



  • References 
  • Society for Personality and Social Psychology. (2014, August 8). How we form habits, change existing ones. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 8, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140808111931.htm
  • Bandura, A., & Schunk, D. H. (1981). Cultivating competence, self-efficacy, and intrinsic interest through proximal self-motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41(3), 586-598.
  • Bullard, O., & Manchanda, R. (2017). How goal progress influences regulatory focus in goal pursuit. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 27, 302–317.
  • Carr, P., & Walton, M. (2014). Cues of working together fuel intrinsic motivation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 169-184.
  • Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: The psychology of “habit-formation” and general practice. The British Journal of General Practice, 62(605), 664–666.
  • Hsu, Y., Wang, S. D., Wang, S., Morton, G., Zariwala, H., de la Iglesia, H., & Turner, E. (2014). Role of the dorsal medial habenula in the regulation of voluntary activity, motor function, hedonic state, and primary reinforcement. The Journal of Neuroscience, 34(34), 11366 –11384.
  • Judge, T., & Ilies, R. (2002). Relationship of personality to performance motivation: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(4), 797–807.
  • Lai, E. (2011). Motivation: A literature review. https://images.pearsonassessments.com/images/tmrs/Motivation_Review_final.pdf
  • Landry, A., Gagné, M., Forest, J., Guerrero, S., Séguin , M., & Papachristopoulos, K. (2017). The relation between financial incentives, motivation, and performance: An integrative SDT-based investigation. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 16, 61-76.
  • Lunenburg, F. (2011). Goal-setting theory of motivation. International Journal Of Management, Business, and Administration, 15(1), 1-6.
  • Margolis, H., & McCabe, P. (2006). Improving self-efficacy and motivation: What to do, what to say. Intervention in School and Clinic, 41(4), 218-227.
  • Pajares, F. (2010). Self-efficacy beliefs, motivation, and achievement in writing: A review of the literature. Published online, 139-158.
  • Pintrich, P. (2003). A motivational science perspective on the role of student motivation in learning and teaching contexts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 667-686.
  • Salamone, J. et al. (2012). The mysterious motivational functions of mesolimbic dopamine. Neuron, 76(3), 470-485.
  • Zimmerman, B., Bandura, A., & Martinez-Pons, M. (1992). Self-motivation for academic attainment: The role of self-efficacy beliefs and personal goal setting. American Educational Research Journal, 29(3), 663-676.

4 Key Statements Powerful Enough to Change Your Life

Therapy can lead to “light bulb” moments; everything suddenly clicks. This is a short list of 4 statements that “clicked” with my clients and inspired change.

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Upon learning I’m a therapist, people often ask for advice. “What do you think I should do about making a change regarding [insert any imaginable life situation here]?”

I hate to disappoint, but I don’t have all the answers. Contrary to popular belief, a counselor won’t tell you how to fix your problems.

Keep in mind that you’re the expert on you. When you combine your knowledge with a therapist’s expertise on human behavior, a collaborative partnership is formed. The process of change begins. You hold the answers, but they’re locked. The process of therapy unlocks the mind.

There have been times in counseling sessions when something I say “clicks” with that person. They experience a moment of clarity or have a sudden realization.

The following list is four key statements that “clicked” with my clients (and for me as well!)

Four Key Statements that May Change Your Life

1. “Say what you mean.”

How many times have you provided an explanation using partial truths? For example, you cancel on a friend, claiming a migraine. Your head may hurt, but at the same time, you’re embarrassed to go to the bar with her. She can’t seem to go out without getting obnoxiously drunk. Another example would be a wife who tells her husband, “I’m fine,” when she’s not. In both examples, truth is avoided.

When you don’t say what you mean, you deprive yourself. You’ll feel frustrated, and you may lose the chance to explore deeper issues. Your communication becomes second-rate. And if you find yourself saying what you think someone wants to hear, that’s not communicating; the point is to understand each other, not to mislead or appease.

Saying what you mean is freeing and it allows you to live an authentic life.

2. “Just say, ‘okay.’”

This is about not engaging with that one person who pushes your buttons (or with your own irrational thoughts).

I’ll use myself as an example. I once received a stern email from my boss, instructing me to complete a task ASAP… a task I finished three days ago. Initially, I panicked, second guessing myself. But after double checking my work and finding it complete, I silently fumed to myself. Does my supervisor think I sit around doing nothing all day? (Or maybe he thinks I’m incompetent?) Why wouldn’t he check before sending an email? I drafted and then rewrote my response several times. I asked a co-worker to look it over and she laughed and asked, “Why didn’t you just tell him, ‘Okay’?” She was right. I had allowed my irrational self (and insecurities) to take over. The project was done, which is what mattered; there was no need for an emotionally-charged response. Another example would be a married couple who constantly fight. They argue to the point of shouting because neither wants the other to “win.”

If you link your self-concept to how others perceive you, the idea of admitting defeat threatens your identity. Instead of feeding into the argument, especially when you’re provoked, just say, “okay” and leave it at that. Furthermore, if there’s a toxic person in your life, for example, an ex that you co-parent with, don’t respond to a provoking text or to a barb. You gain nothing by proving you’re right (other than maybe a self-important spark of satisfaction). In the end, you’re still the loser because you took the bait and allowed someone else to orchestrate your emotions.

Don’t sacrifice your peace of mind; just say, “okay.”

3. “This is nothing you can’t handle.”

It may not seem like much, but this sentence can lay the foundation for change. A seemingly unsolvable problem is broken down into manageable solutions. A catastrophe becomes a challenge.

When faced with the impossible, we panic. Our emotional mind has all the control while our rational mind fades to the background. However, the rational mind can be coaxed from hiding with guidance.

The next time you feel helpless and are thinking, “This is impossible,” remind yourself it’s nothing you can’t handle. Once you’re in that mind frame, the solutions will come more easily.

4. “Always take ownership.”

This is about owning your actions, especially when you make a poor decision. You’re going to make mistakes. Don’t make excuses. Admit fault and apologize when needed.

I’ve counseled clients who made excuses for their wrongdoings, even their crimes. (“I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for [insert plausible reason here]”). By placing the blame on someone or something else, you stunt personal growth. You’ll continue to make the same mistakes, and it will never be your fault.

You can’t live an authentic life without taking ownership, nor will you gain the respect of others. Be authentic; take ownership of your mistakes (and achievements!)


If reading this list of key statements “sparked” something for you, think about the changes you want to make. Develop a change plan. And then take action!