(FORTUNE Magazine) – Oh, Lord. Zukofsky's going to tell us what he really thinks again. Problem is, he's not lying. "Honestly," he says, and I know we're in for it. We need a lot less truth around here. And a lot more rock & roll. I'm going to arrange my face and think about a couple of things. The arranging of face is all important. There. It's on. Let's continue.

The complete business person must have at his or her disposal a panoply of talents, among them a solid handshake, a good grounding in mathematics, a mammoth capacity to assimilate and retain information, the ability to get by on less than six hours of sleep, a stomach capable of handling food and drink of uncertain quantity and quality, an even temper, and the willingness to lead when called upon to do so, to follow cheerfully when appropriate, and to get out of the way when necessary.

And yet these characteristics, if properly employed, are merely enough to land you in the middle-lower regions of subsenior management. For those who wish to leave hardtack and water behind, a still more important gift is called for--one that truly separates the men and women from the boys and girls. It is, quite simply, the ability to appear sincere in situations that require but do not merit it.

This capacity for feigned sincerity--which might be squinted at in any occupation but business--is absolutely essential for those who need to control the situations in which daily activity puts them. Control, that's it. The heavy hitters have it. Losers don't. They're the ones you see with their true feelings dripping down their faces. Do you want to be one of them? Of course not.

To test your bogus-sincerity quotient, I've devised a little multiple-choice quiz. Each correct reply will qualify you to move to the next and more important level.

Compulsory acquiescence. You have been invited to "grab a bite" with Mr. Burgess at his favorite lunch spot, the one where they know his name and keep a jar of his favorite mustard on hand. (If you are in L.A., replace "mustard" with "octopus roe.") As you chomp down on your sandwich, you realize that the liverwurst, which he promised was the "best in the city," is, in fact, fetid. You cannot eat it. Instead you: (a) eat it; (b) push it around on your plate until it is a molecularly disassociated mass, doing your best to disregard the look of hurt disappointment on Burgess's sensitive face; (c) call the waiter over and curtly exchange it for something better; (d) wait for Burgess to go to the restroom, and then roll the gelatinous luncheon meat into your napkin, which you then thrust into the bottom of your briefcase. When he comes back you say nothing about the meal, but on the way out you make sure he sees you picking up one of the establishment's business cards.

The answer? Well, if you're stupid, you chose (a). Less adroit sincerity managers will opt for (b) and (c). But if you selected (d), good show. You have neither debased yourself nor wounded your valued companion, and may move on to...

Noble weaseling. Immediately following a screening of the new corporate videotape--which rots--you find yourself sitting in the boardroom with Vreeland, its producer, several vicious members of the highly competitive marketing squad, none of whom know which way to go on it, and Walt, who, as CEO, starred in much of it. Somebody asks you what you think of it. You: (a) blurt, "It was great!" like Tony the Tiger; (b) chirp, "That's the best actualization of a great concept since Euro Disney!" and get a tremendous, eye-watering laugh at Vreeland's expense; (c) say, "Honestly? I hated it. It stunk. I think we can do much better. I think if we can't, we'd all pretty much better hang it up"; (d) scratch your chin thoughtfully, put your feet up on the table, and say, "It had some good moments, but I'm not sure Walt's vision is coming through as loud and clear as we need it to every second. Should we take a look at it a little before we send it out?" after which you are given the assignment of tweaking just a few minor points, a position from which you can indefinitely delay the whole thing until everybody forgets about it.

The answer, of course, is (d), which leaves the project mortally wounded without hurting anyone's pride or reputation in a public forum. Very nice work. You're now promoted to...

Bogus frankness (a.k.a. superficial candor). You are in Dallas at a large hotel, enjoying your company's annual gathering of yowling bozos. There are lots of meetings and overhead presentations, but the true purpose of the thing was best expressed the evening before, when the president of the ball bearing division got loose and danced around playing air guitar with his tie around his forehead. The next day at the indoor pool, you run into Spano, a line manager somewhere in the Great Northwest, who, you happen to know, is slated for extinction in the next round of excellence-mongering. There is nothing he can do to save his hide. Whatever mustard was expected of him he just has not cut to date, and he's had ample chance. "Dude!" he says, with that false jollity that only the doomed can summon. "I have a meeting with Walt next week, and I'd like your thoughts on how I should handle it." You: (a) compliment him on his new, slicked-back hair, which you tell him looks "real Gordon Gecko," and get away from him as fast as you can; (b) tell him to "bring a suit of armor and a flame thrower," then laugh hysterically, slap him on the back like a tire salesman, and get away from him as fast as you can; (c) level with him about his situation, tell him about several outplacement firms that may be able to help him, then get away from him as fast as you can; (d) draw him into a quiet corner and--while denying any specific knowledge of his situation--talk a little strategy. After 15 minutes of this hooey, you claim you've got a tee-off with a couple of guys that you really can't miss and get away from the guy as fast as you can. After all, he's dead meat.

You chose (d), naturally. It's not particularly truthful, but it's skillful and you like it. That's because you're ready for...

Lying right into people's faces. You're the top guy in your corner of the organization. Once a month, you must attend a staff meeting with your peers, each of whom is a bloated egomaniac whose power is as great as yours and who has no responsibility to listen to anything you say. You are sitting at the conference table waiting for the chairman to arrive, and suddenly you realize that every single guy there hates the other guys' guts.

You are startled by this revelation, which you find somewhat shocking and unpleasant. You: (a) go around the room squeezing people's shoulders and yelling, "How the hell are ya?"; (b) retreat into a shell and try to deal with your feelings of animus and self-revulsion, sinking ever deeper into yourself until you are little more than a metaphysical grease spot on your chair; (c) get a little snarky with Fahringer, who's always gotten under your skin, needling him about an idiotic profile that recently appeared about him in Vegetable Week, a key industry trade journal; (d) smile, drink coffee, and talk about golf.

Do I have to tell you? Of course I don't. And congratulations. With this enormous bolt of pure false sincerity, you've proven that you're ready to party hearty at the big table. May you never change! Because the only alternative is the ultimate form of executive sincerity:

Cruelty. You're the head cheese. Your team has just played its heart out but lost to the Seattle Mariners in the fifth exciting game. You're disappointed, of course, but you visit the locker room anyhow. Most upset is the team manager, a young man who has worked very hard and who later says his grief at the loss of the series is surpassed only by his sorrow at his father's death. To deal with this fellow, you: (a) talk to everyone in the clubhouse but him; (b) pat him on the back as you walk by him out of the room and mutter something like "Pull yourself together"; (c) publicly state your admiration of the manager of the opposing team while expressing the opinion to one and all that your team should have done better, given how highly you pay them; (d) refuse to clarify the future of your guy, who has been with the organization for 14 years.

The answer, if you're the Boss, is (e) all of the above. I know I didn't offer it. It was a trick question.

Who needs such honesty! Do you want your peers saying what they actually think of your performance at a budget review? Do you want your subordinate's real opinion of your new haircut? And do I really want to hear another unvarnished word from Zukofsky at this time?

No, I do not. I've heard enough. Real unmodulated thoughts and feelings have no place in business. They're exhausting and take up way too much personal space. The effort to produce false sincerity among a group of people is a binding covenant, a commitment to keep things civilized. Beyond its pale lies gratuitous truth, which quite often cannot be managed.

But do I stand up and wave my yellow pad around, honk and bleat and share my deep and abiding conviction that I'd rather take a sharp stick in the eye than stay in this room one minute longer? Not at all. I believe I'll just tell this friendly group that it's been a great meeting but I unfortunately have a conference call I just can't miss. They won't believe my lie, but they'll appreciate the effort it took to make it. And that's how I like it.

I don't want anybody around here saying I don't give 110%.

By day, Stanley Bing is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.