15 Little White Lies Everyone Is Guilty of Telling Every Day

Updated: Mar. 25, 2021

We lie when we’re trying to appear likable. We lie when we’re trying to appear competent. And sometimes we lie simply because we’re deceitful jerks. Here are some of our favorite fibs.


“Your boyfriend’s great”

No he isn’t. He’s a self-centered womanizer wanted in 27 states. But you won’t tell your friend that. No, you’re averse to conflict. Chelsea Fagan at thoughtcatalog.com thinks you’re a coward. “It is your job, as a friend, to answer important questions honestly when they are presented to you,” she says. OK, I added the coward part, but it is an oft-repeated fact that people in love don’t always see clearly, and they need you to act as a bright beacon to warn them away from the treacherous, rocky shoals of romance. Sure, your friend may never want to speak to you again for dissing her beau, but should you keep your mouth shut and she’s left at the altar, the next question will be, “Why didn’t you say something?!”

iStock/Milan Markovic

“I love how you cut my hair”

Excuse me, but your hair doesn’t look like it was cut so much as it was mowed. A lot of us have trouble telling beauticians or waiters or whomever we pay for a service that that service stank.  In one study, 85 percent of restaurant diners told waiters that their dining experience was good when it wasn’t. “The real interesting finding,” writes Guy Winch, in Psychology Today, “was that diners who told white lies to cover up their dissatisfaction were then likely to leave bigger tips than those who did not.” The reason? Something called cognitive dissonance, in “which our actions do not match our beliefs, creating a state of psychological and emotional discomfort.” We tend to resolve cognitive dissonance by overcompensating. Which means that even though you just got a haircut only Malcolm Gladwell would like, you still leave your beautician a handsome tip. Find out the real reason why telling lies can be dangerous.

iStock/Robert Ingelhart

“Why, yes, I love the artichoke dip”

The dirty little secret about artichoke dip is that nobody likes it. Still, you were at a party once and the artichoke dip went uneaten. So you decided to be a nice guy and try some, then assure the hostess that it was excellent. And now, every time she throws a party, she says, “I’m serving Lobster Thermidor, but since you liked the artichoke dip so much I made that for you.” You told a little white lie to make someone feel good, and now you’re missing out on Lobster Thermidor. Guess what? You’re a mensch. A study out of  Wharton Business School found that “individuals with altruistic intentions are perceived to be more moral, more benevolent, and more honest, even when they lie.” That should help the artichoke dip and the white lies associated with it go down a little easier. Learn 15 more ways to avoid an awkward situation.


“I’m fine, honest”

No, you’re not, you’re a mess. But you’re a mess who either doesn’t want to burden your friends or assumes they don’t want to be burdened by your troubles. You may be right. Ask Freud and he’ll say you’re trying to avoid feelings that cause you anxiety. Completely understandable, but as defense mechanisms go, it’s a lousy one. That’s because you “don’t get to face and overcome” your fears, says psych2go.com. But then, so what. “Maybe you haven’t thought about it enough to know how you really feel about a situation,” says Bustle. When we do think it out, we may realize we’ve just overreacted to a slight or that we’re too tired to rehash a lousy day. “There’s no law that says your partner [or friend] gets complete access to every single one of your thoughts and feelings.” Don’t miss these common lies that doom a relationship.


“My child isn’t fat”

Wellll … Let’s put it this way: Little Joey may in fact not be fat, but according to a 2015 study, a third of all parents underestimate their child’s weight. Worse yet, for a severely obese child with a BMI at the 98th percentile “there was an 80 percent chance that the parent would classify their child as a healthy weight,” reports the Daily Mail. There are ramifications to such blindness. The study’s author Sanjay Kinra, MD, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told the Daily Mail, “If parents are unable to accurately classify their own child’s weight, they may not be motivated to enact the changes to the child’s environment that promote healthy weight maintenance.” Check out these 17 white lies patients tell their doctors—and why they should tell the truth.


“I’ll let you go”

No, what you want is for them to let you go. Telling someone who is yammering on and on, ”I really have to go” may strike some as rude. So by turning it around, you’re putting the onus on yourself—you’re the one holding them up by listening to their endless blather. “White lies,” says Psychology Today, “often come from a sense of compassion, not a desire to deceive.” Don’t miss these almost effortless ways to make yourself a nicer person.

iStock/Andrew Rich

“You did great”

Other than the fact that you failed miserably, that is. We all want to know that we’re successful at whatever it is we’re doing. It’s good for our self-esteem. And, as has been reported over and over, to that end, our society has gone crazy slapping each other on the back or awarding trophies for coming in 12th. But even kids as young as four aren’t fooled by false praise. Children “are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles,” Ashley Merryman, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, wrote in the New York Times. “Those who are outperformed know it and give up, while those who do well feel cheated when they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments.” Even narcissistic adults aren’t always fooled. I remember one at-bat on my high school baseball team. With the winning run on base, I hit a dribbler back to the pitcher who turned it into a double play. My sister, the kindest woman in the world, yelled from the stands, “At least you hit it!” Shortly after that, I took up Checkers. Here are 11 more things parents say that ruin their kids’ trust.


“I’ve had (fill in the blank) sex partners”

Oh yeah, sure. It turns out that neither men nor women get the number right. In a recent survey, heterosexual women report 8.6 lifetime sexual partners while heterosexual men chalk up 31.9. But, says psychologist Norman R. Brown at the University of Michigan, these surveys are inherently flawed. That’s because women rely on a raw count. “They tend to say, ‘I just know,’ and if you ask them to explain how they know, they say, ‘Well, there was John, Tom, etc,'” Brown told LiveScience. Men, on the other hand, use a rough approximation, “a strategy known to produce over-estimation.” I myself have had roughly 12,000 sex partners, give or take 12,000. Find out which white lies it’s OK to tell your partner.


“No, I don’t have any questions”

Yes you do. Probably loads. But whether it’s at work, talking to your accountant, or flying to Mars, when asked, “Do you have any questions?” few of us are willing to look clueless and ask, “Can you please go over that for the 12th time?” Instead, we feign knowledge. Get over it, say experts. “If you have questions and they will affect your ability to do a good job, you will need to find some answers,” corporate consultant Gabriela Cora, MD, told CNN. If you’re worried about your reputation, CNN suggests you “preface your question by saying that you just want to be certain you understand everything completely.”


“I’d be happy to”

No, you wouldn’t. Imagine your new BFF asks, “Will you pick me up at the airport three states away?” Or if your boss asks you to take over that new account, even though he’s loaded you up with 12 other new accounts. Now, they’ve both put you on the spot. But rather than tell off your friend or take a chance of disappointing your manager, you cheerfully reply, “I’d be happy to.” Liar! The fact is, you don’t know how to say “no.” And worse, once you’ve said you’ll do it, you’re obligated. In the case of your boss, not doing as he asked could cost you your job. Dr. Cora suggested on CNN, “if you find yourself underwater at work, don’t be shy about asking your boss about priorities.” Don’t miss these polite ways to say “no” to the annoying things in your life.


“We’ll see”

The definition of “We’ll see”: “We’re not doing that.” All parents have trotted this one out, mostly because we don’t find what kids want to do all that interesting, and we’re too gutless to say so. But say this too often and the kids will see through it, and that can affect your relationship. Nancy Darling, a professor of psychology at Oberlin College, told Redbook: “In the long term, being caught in repeated lies means our kids learn we can’t really be trusted. Kids need their parents to be a rock of certainty, and each lie is a chip off that certainty.” Check out these 22 hilarious lies real parents have told their kids.

Watching TV and using remote controller
Concept Photo/Shutterstock

“Just one more episode”

It’s not your fault that autoplay started the next two after that “one last” episode, right? Sorry, but you should start learning to just say “no.” A University of Michigan study found that young adults who binge-watched TV had worse sleep quality and were more likely to be fatigued than those who stuck with just an episode or two. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends deciding ahead of time what your stopping point will be and taking a break after each episode (even if you aren’t done watching) to escape the downward spiral of auto-play.

people, junk food, culinary, baking and unhealthy eating concept - close up of hands with chocolate oatmeal cookies and muesli bars in glass jar
Syda Productions/Shutterstock

“I don’t want the last cookie. You have it!”

…you say, barely concealing your look of longing. Of course, sometimes these types of white lies comes from caring about someone else’s happiness over your own. Caliente Joe Coffee Co. owner Mike Clouse writes that letting his wife have the last cookie is one of his keys to a successful marriage. “I enjoy watching her have the last cookie far more than the cookie will taste if I eat it myself,” he writes for HuffPost. “It’s a simple gesture that says a lot to the person you love.” For those of us who aren’t as big of a person and would rather be a little selfish, swiping that last cookie can be a power move. Psychologist Dacher Keltner, PhD, has a classic “Cookie Monster study” that when groups of three were given four cookies, the last cookie went uneaten for a bit—but eventually went to the groups’ randomly chosen leaders. Your call if dessert time calls for a loving partner or a cutthroat leader.

Stressed African American guy crying at work

“It wasn’t my fault”

Better own up to this one, bud. No one wants to make themselves look bad at work, but it will look way worse if you try to cover your mistake up or point fingers at an innocent coworker. Apologize immediately, but be prepared with a solution that will start undoing the damage. “To wait is to seal your doom… but you can push the odds in a positive direction by being proactive,” career coach Todd Dewett tells Time. Even though it isn’t your finest moment, you’ll still show you’re a responsible employee. Don’t miss these clear signs you can’t trust your coworker.

SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock

“I have read and agree to the terms and condition”

Have you ever read a single one of these? Does anyone in the company even read these things? Apparently not. “We know from studies that nobody reads it. And when I say nobody, I’m not rounding up a small number to zero,” Omri Ben-Shahar, PhD, who teaches contract law at the University of Chicago, tells NPR. But lazy consumers will be relieved to hear Ben-Shahar agrees that carefully reading 55 pages worth of jargon written in eight-point font isn’t worth the time. Instead, just follow watchdog groups who call out questionable conditions people have been signing off to. Now, turn the tables and find out how to spot a liar.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest