How Do You Respond to Cheating?

Something peculiar was going on. There was no way they could be achieving these results without cheating. Could they?

It left me wondering why people are so adept at ruining good things.

Now, the task at hand wasn’t high stakes. It was a game on my phone where teams take on one another in little battles. But the fact it wasn’t high stakes made the idea that players would choose to cheat even more intriguing (and irritating).

How do you respond when you suspect someone is cheating (deliberately deceiving others to get an unfair advantage)?

I’m not a particularly competitive person…most of the time. But something awakens in me when I sense suspicious activity. It probably comes from the same place as my response to people using technology to deliberately mislead audiences into believing in the impossible talents of deceptive artists.

It sparks confusion and frustration in me, especially when it impacts most people engaging in good faith. My instinct is usually to walk away, but sometimes that is not an option, especially when the integrity of the game, institution, or activity is at stake (and meaningful to me).

Why Do People Cheat?

There’s not one universal reason people engage in cheating. That’s what can make picking the best response tricky. We might make wrong assumptions about a person’s motivations. But some potential reasons might be…

They Want To Win At All Costs

Someone might prioritise winning over the spirit in which they engage. They have developed a mindset that links their self-esteem to winning instead of focusing on participating in a particular way. They’ve learned to see through a binary lens, believing society values winners and disrespects losers.

They Enjoy Cheating

Some people enjoy breaking the rules undetected more than actually winning. For them, winning symbolises their ability to outsmart others rather than being the ultimate goal. They don’t care about the result as much as they do about finding new and better ways to cheat. Therefore, the common phrase, “You’re only cheating yourself,” does not resonate with them.

Cheating Gives Them Attention in

Sometimes, people cheat not necessarily to win but to get attention. Some may even WANT to get caught, basking in the chance to explain how they did it, just like the antagonist revealing their foiled master plan in a movie.

If someone was rewarded for negative attention-seeking behaviour growing up, cheating might become a maladaptive way to feel seen and noticed by others.

They Don’t Realise They Are Cheating

Sometimes, people cheat without being aware of it. They might believe that they have discovered a more efficient way of doing something without realising that it goes against the rules or the general spirit of the activity. This can occur when expectations and regulations are not communicated from the outset, and individuals are unaware of what is “acceptable”.

Are there any other reasons people might cheat? I suppose I missed an obvious one: a sense of necessity. When under stress or pressure (basic physical needs, external demands/expectations, etc.), someone might seek shortcuts to do what needs to be done. If they perceive the game as balanced in someone else’s favour, they might hold cheating as their only option for recognition or survival.

How To Respond To Cheating

It’s easy to feel disheartened when faced with deception, but there are constructive ways to respond. On that final point, we can seek to understand the challenges that make cheating feel like the only option. We might work WITH them to find solutions that work for everyone.

1. Start With Acceptance

Wherever people gather, there is a chance we will encounter those who want to game systems and cheat the collective. No amount of wishing people weren’t like that can make it so. But that doesn’t mean we can’t assume the best of people while at the same time being prepared for the worst. Preparing means giving ourselves options to willingly choose from if and when we encounter it.

2. Choose Our Response

By giving ourselves options, we can choose our response. What is the nature of the cheating? How is it impacting this situation? What is it extracting, and who is it taking from? What might happen if it isn’t addressed?

Set Agreements (this happens before “kick-off”)

What are the expectations and acceptable ways of acting? Give people as much information as possible. Bring them into the agreement-setting process so that they take responsibility for upholding the integrity of the game and understand the consequences of breaking the agreement.

Punitive Actions

The threat of repercussions works in specific contexts. For example, knowing that the consequences of being caught cheating are worse than the consequences of losing (e.g., failing the test) and setting clear boundaries if cheating is detected. For example, if you continue behaving in this way, you will be unable to continue.

Cheat Harder

This is one to use with caution, but we might respond to cheating by cheating—not to win but rather to demonstrate how much it ruins things. Cheating is only possible if most people are playing by the rules, so if the playing field is levelled, it can highlight the purpose of the rules.


Cheating galvanises my competitive spirit (a drive to put the world right). If there’s a way of winning (i.e. their cheating method doesn’t make it impossible), I find a quiet, fiery determination to win. There is something quite rewarding about beating someone who is cheating.

Report and Ignore

If there’s a fair and trustworthy process to report someone cheating, it can remove the noise of injustice in your system. Of course, this only works if you have confidence in the process.

Meeting Cheating With Gentleness

Gentleness (firm back, soft front) is an excellent way to encounter cheating because it can withstand it without being drawn into it. This might look like meeting the world in good faith, allowing people to explain themselves and have a second chance if appropriate.

Gentleness doesn’t indiscriminately indulge or dismiss cheating. It meets it as it is and chooses its response calmly and carefully.

Over to You

What is your instinct when you encounter cheating? Has this been effective? Would you like to add any other potential responses to your option box?

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