Recently I was denied an application to work as a teacher's assistant for my school. My friend also applied, and he was denied too.

My friend calls me, and asks me if I got the role or not. Before I could answer the question and tell him I didn't, he says the following:

"I know you did. After all, you help out so much on the online discussion board and have so many contributions to the class, there's no way you didn't get it. I'm going to help out more now so I can get that TA role next time"

I tell my friend I didn't check my results yet, and would contact him later.

Now here's what I don't know what to do about.

If I tell him yes, then he will decide to help out more on the online discussion boards (which is what I want, helping is good, I want him to assist others when he can). But also, during the semester, he will see that I am not actually working, and realised that I lied to him this entire time.

If I tell him no, he will get the idea that "no matter how much you help out around class, you will still not get the TA role", and this will discourage him from helping others because the motivation is lost if he cannot secure a TA role.

Even if I tell him yes, and he finds out that I was lying, then he eventually will stop helping out others because "what's the point, if my friend helped out this much and didn't get the role, how can I?"

You see, I want him to help out others, and participate more in online discussions since he is very smart and spreading knowledge and assisting others is something great, essentially what the Stack Exchange network is.

That being said, whether I say no or yes, I still don't know what to say, as they both end up with him discouraged not to participate.

  • "what's the point, if my friend helped out this much and didn't get the role, how can I?" Thinking that he would still consider someone that tricked him like a little child as a friend is kind of a stretch, don't you think ?
    – Sarkouille
    Aug 28, 2017 at 8:11
  • @NotThatGuy this is exactly what I want to avoid. I don't want him to "make him do it". I just want to inspire him because I beleieve others should help even if it is no benefit to them. In the end it is his choice obviously, but really isn't that what inspiration is? A person "makes you like something" by inspiring you to do it. I don't see how this situation is any different. I will tell him the truth, but please understand I don't want to "make him" do it. There is a difference
    – K Split X
    Aug 28, 2017 at 12:25
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about ethics, not about interpersonal skills.
    – user510
    Aug 28, 2017 at 15:11
  • 2
    I am not clear on what your motive is to hide the truth from him? I don't see any logical reason not to tell him you didn't get the position.
    – Kmeixner
    Aug 28, 2017 at 21:05
  • 2
    Don't confuse motivation with manipulation.
    – dhein
    Aug 29, 2017 at 9:05

7 Answers 7


Discouragement is natural. You're both in the same boat, so tell him you didn't get it. If he gets discouraged about helping out, why don't you inspire him by setting an example? That no matter what, you'll still help out on the discussion boards to keep trying to get the TA role, regardless. He obviously feels it contributes to getting the role, so he may join you. You could say something like:

Let's both keep on trying and help out on the discussion boards from now on regardless of the outcome, this is only a small bump in the road. If we keep going, one of us will get it! Either way, we're still helping.

I recently have been applying for roles for companies all over the UK for the dream role I'd like to get, I had 10 failed interviews (8 being final), I traveled hundreds of miles. One of the interviews I even had to cello-tape a mobile device to a laptop because the laptop didn't have a webcam. This was over the course of a year. But, I've got a role at a massive company (and start next month) and couldn't be happier. Dedication is key and if you try to get both of you dedicated, the chances of success are higher. So no, don't lie but inspire anyway!


If it makes any difference whatever you tell him, why the confusion? Be honest then.

Chances are what you're worried about (him being discouraged from helping the class)

  • won't happen and you both can earn your way to the assistant position again next time
  • or it happens, he become discouraged, and stop helping, but you are honest with him and prevent other awkward situation.

I strongly believe that I should not lie whatever situation I am in. Tactfully revealing the truth is fine, but no lying.

  • How could he reveal the truth without lying? "I should not lie whatever situation I am in" That's a dogma which i don't like. There are certainly situations where you should lie, but that depends on the situation and on your sense of ethics. Btw, everyone lies dozens of times every day(i like the meal,...). No relationship would last for more than a week if no one lied. Aug 28, 2017 at 9:49
  • @TimSchmelter in this particular question, the OP has lied when he said "I haven't checked my result". What I encourage him not to do is lying, whether telling his friend he get the job, or other statement that is not true. Bradley's answer suggested a very good follow up encouragement after breaking the news.
    – Vylix
    Aug 28, 2017 at 9:53
  • Yes he lied but just to buy time to decide whether he should tell him the truth or to really lie to encourage him to continue helping out others. So it was a white lie that doesn't hurt. I don't want to say that a lie is the best way in this situation, i just wanted to say that your explanation is not satisfying. You basically say, maybe he won't be discouraged or if he will, that honesty prevents awkward situations anyway. Then comes a dogma("do not lie whatever situation"). Aug 28, 2017 at 10:00
  • @TimSchmelter that statement is basically my guidance when I'm confused. Sure, I did lie. But whatever my circumstances in, (when I'm sober) I always try not to lie. Hide the truth, if you may call it so. Change the topic. Whatever I can to avoid giving a lie. When confronted, well, I may either tell the hard truth, or giving in to lie.
    – Vylix
    Aug 28, 2017 at 10:01
  • @TimSchmelter yes, that's why I changed the wording on that last sentence before I posted it. It was read as "you should not lie whatever the situation is". I changed it to "I" because I see it as a principle for me, and don't want to force it into others.
    – Vylix
    Aug 28, 2017 at 10:03

What are his goals? His goal is to get TA position.

What are your goals? Your goal is to make him help out more on the online discussion boards.

Are those two the same? No. In your opinion, online activity doesn't help in getting TA position.

What are you asking here? You're asking if you can trick your friend into sacrificing what he wants in favor of achieving what you want.

The answer is a very strong "NO". You can't manipulate people like that. You're trying to justify yourself by stating that online helping is some kind of greater good. But the problem is that it's not your decision to make and you must always keep in mind that your assessment could be wrong. Maybe as a TA he would help people more than in online discussion board?

If you want to be a good friend, then work with him to find a way to become a TA. Possibly, a one that does not involve the discussion board. It appears that your school either doesn't value it, or thinks that people who help online will keep helping and TA is a way to mobilize people who're not active online.


In life you have to learn how to be self motivated and do what you are passionate about. If he is not passionate about helping others, perhaps he isn't well suited to be a teaching assistant. Likewise, since you are passionate about it, the fact that you didn't get the position likely won't at all deter you from continuing on in helping.

There is no way we can help someone else be their best self other than encouragement and support (sometimes also setting boundaries and limits, depending on the situation). Realistically though, he has to decide for himself if he can find enjoyment just by doing it. If he does, then he will be inspired to continue, if not, he won't. If he will only be motivated to help more because he thinks there is some pay off (a job he wants) then perhaps it's not a path he should be on anyway.

I have a couple of young adult children and some young ones still. I tell them this same thing regularly.

  • Do what you do because you love it.
  • Do it because it makes you want to get out of bed in the morning.
  • Do it because you lay down at night with a smile on your face for what you did today.
  • Do it because you have a passion for it.
  • Do not do it for what you think you get for it, or you are doomed to be disappointed in life.

If others acknowledge your hard work, your talent, your skill, awesome. If they do not, that is fine too. If you feel good about what you do, that will always be enough, the rest is just a bonus. That is why I say this. I truly believe it.

I have jumped careers several times as an adult. I have jumped into industries I had no training in. I go for passion. It has never failed me. I have always ended up being able to not only succeed but to advance, even though logically I shouldn't be able to, because I really want to do whatever it is I am doing.

When you love doing something, it shows in all ways and you end up excelling at it simply because you have a drive to keep getting better. If I no longer want to do what I have been doing, I am okay to change, again. I find a new passion and chase it. Passion always brings you so much more enjoyment, and success will follow it.

So if you want your friend to succeed, figure out what he is truly passionate about and encourage that. That is always where you will naturally be the most likely to excel. Doing well and advancing takes time, devotion, effort, but when passion is what drives it, you get to enjoy the journey too.

So no, do not lie. There is nothing real or tangible to be gained from it. Just tell him the whole truth. You did not get the job and that is disappointing, but you help because you love doing it, and that isn't going to change because of the job.

  • I didn't realize it might have that connotation to some. Where I live it's seen more like "whatever", a neutral response, but I will adjust if it that helps with better conveying the intention to more readers. Thank you.
    – threetimes
    Aug 28, 2017 at 17:19
  • Also, thank you @Vylix for the nice edit. It makes it much more readable in general. I have to work on my formatting as I am very rusty.
    – threetimes
    Aug 28, 2017 at 17:20
  • @threetimes thank you for this answer. Even though it is not the most popular, I do believe that you cover all my issues and address them very well. Thank you for this.
    – K Split X
    Aug 28, 2017 at 21:21

Instead of suggesting what you should do it would be better to write my thinking process and decision in this situation.

I would tell that I didn't get the job (truth). But I don't think helping others won't help getting the TA job in the next attempt. (Relating online help with the TA job depends upon the considerations about selections. Does your employer consider online contributions and help as a criteria for a good TA?) Whether I get the TA job or not doesn't matter, because helping others is good, I believe.

To focus on getting the TA job we need to focus on job requirements and additional considerations which will help to get it. Your friend assumed you must have got TA job because of the assumption that helping others must be working for it. In his assumption and in your question, job specific requirements are not present. In my opinion, telling the truth shouldn't discourage your friend.

But if it discourages or you feel it so in such situation I would tell my friend how helping others have benefited me personally and how my nature of helping isn't wasted at all though I didn't get the job.


Influence is okay to use on people. But manipulation is not, even for seemingly good ends.

I haven't yet figured out a perfect definition of manipulation that clearly separates it from influence, but my current working definition is:

manipulate, verb

1 To attempt to cause a person to act a certain way he would not otherwise act, such that if the person fully knew or understood your actions, it would damage relationship with him.

Source: me

I know this definition is not perfect because of certain counter-examples of influence based on a shrewd understanding of human psychology and human nature (consider Cialdini's principles of persuasion which are possible to use in a benign way), but it's the best definition I have so far.

Hallmarks of manipulation are coercion, information disparity, and power disparity. Your situation lands right in the middle of the first two: you want to coerce your friend to do something he wouldn't otherwise do, through concealing information. Yet, your very concern that he would be upset if he learned all the information proves it would be manipulation.

Don't do it!

For reference (these do not satisfy me in regards to my suggestion that interpersonal influence is okay ala "how to win friends and influence people", but manipulation is not):

manipulate, verb

2b to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage

Source: Merriam-Webster


influence, verb

(presented in prose) to affect or change someone or something in an indirect but usually important way

Source: Merriam Webster


Tell the truth.
If you tell the whole truth, and nothing but the whole truth, you will essentially have provided him with the correct representation of reality and on time.

If you withhold information or give imprecise information, you're essentially injecting time between when he'll eventually discover the whole truth and the moment you testify. This is like giving him the 'runaround'.

Truth does not need any propaganda; it holds its own. The characteristic mark of truth is that it is the correct representation of reality, i.e., of a state of affairs that is and works whether or not anybody recognizes it. The recognition and pronouncement of truth is as such a condemnation of everything that is untrue. It carries on by the mere fact of being true. - Ludwig von Mises.

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