Can we be wise without being honest?

Lies: Why everyone is doing it - and we should reduce it anyway

Chances are, you've lied more than once in the past week. Because, according to psychologists, we do this a lot more often than we'd like to think of ourselves. Why is lying such a widespread practice? What are the consequences? And how can we develop towards more honesty? A contribution by Ragnhild Struss.

Every now and then everyone lies: “Yes, your new hairstyle looks great!”, “On Saturday? Unfortunately, I already have something planned ... "or just the classic" I'm fine. "On request. The number of lies per individual varies depending on the study: from twice a day to three times in a ten-minute conversation up to 200 times a day - depending on how narrowly the concept of the lie is understood and how it is measured. Something in us seems to encourage us to lie, and in fact it is in a certain sense beneficial for our social interaction. However, an explanation of the cause does not constitute a free ticket to lying. On the contrary: It is worthwhile to make a plea for the truth. Because on closer inspection, there are only advantages at all levels if we are honest.

When do we speak of "lies"

By definition it is a lie a statement that you know (or at least suspect) that it is untrue - which is expressed with the intention that the other person will believe it. So the intention to create the wrong impression on someone else is an important part of the lie that is judged morally reprehensible. Colloquially, we limit it to less malicious forms like that Whisper which can be used, for example, in the context of joking. Also a euphemism, ie a glossing over, is a socially accepted form of “manipulating the truth”, for example when the job reference says “to our satisfaction”, but in reality the grade is sufficient. The lie is also different from the lie illusion insofar as lies are always dependent on language (also non-verbal) - something untrue is always communicated. A deception can also take place without any communicative elements, for example if you pretend to be asleep to eavesdrop on others.

Lies can be broken down in a number of ways, such as their severity or the underlying intent. The different types of lies include, for example social lies (also called white lies): Behind them is the (supposedly) "purest" intention, because they are not supposed to give the lying an advantage, but to protect the lying against from harm, to maintain harmony in a group or to motivate others - from "Your food tastes great!" towards "We are on the right track in our team!" To White lies (in many cases also excuses) is used when we want to avoid an embarrassing situation or when speaking the truth would have other (socially) negative consequences. Example: You are late for an important presentation and claim that the train has canceled.

A Purpose lie should achieve a certain result for the lying, for example a reduced admission with a wrong age. Behind the willful, antisocial lie there is a clear intention to gain an advantage for yourself by accepting damage for others, for example selling counterfeit goods. The intrigue is a special form of this category, in which the aim is even to harm others. Such deliberate lies often have legal consequences. And finally there is that pathological, compulsive lies (pseudology)which psychologists today no longer classify as an independent clinical picture, but rather regard it as a facet of the narcissistic personality disorder.

Why we lie and what positive aspects it can have

The majority of people do not lie out of malicious intent, but only to save themselves trouble with others, to continue to be liked by the other person and not to endanger the relationship with one another. To that extent act Lies as "social glue" and are seen by many social psychologists as an important function for successful social coexistence. Because in order for us to get along well, it is important not to damage the other's self-worth: Most people are very sensitive to negative comments about themselves, their performance or their appearance - accordingly, we all pay attention to the hard truth for to gloss over the other at least a little. In this case, the value of relationship harmony or loving interaction has made it a little further up the value hierarchy than that of radical honesty. A person who says his honest opinion unfiltered all day - "Your dress doesn't suit you!", "Oh, but you have gained weight" or "I think you are not that good at your job." - would probably joking with many. In this respect, at least less serious “circumnavigations of the truth” can apparently help our relationships to function more smoothly (whether this is true is discussed in the next section).

For our own mental health, too, it is sometimes important that we deceive ourselves a little. So we unconsciously use so-called Defense Mechanismswith which we soften conflicted feelings in order to feel better. Some of them involve a manipulation of the truth in some way, for example we use rationalization to find logical-sounding reasons for a state of affairs that is actually more negative than we have presented. But even if this happens involuntarily and out of self-protection, it is important not to lie to yourself massively, but also to face reality at the appropriate time.

Negative effects of lies

However, by no means all reasons for lying arise from the pure desire to make cooperation more positive. The man who hides a secret affair from his partner certainly not only wants to spare his wife pain, but also wants to enjoy the advantage of being able to pursue both relationships stress-free. In reality, our reasons for lying are mostly mixed. People also lie out of laziness in order to avoid “punishments” and to gain certain advantages, clearly for self-interest. Regardless of the intention - Lying always negatively affects our relationships. Because we instinctively notice when we are being lied to or when the other is at least glossing over the truth: As a result, a dishonest counterpart appears less trustworthy and we distance ourselves internally from this person. We feel unsure whether we can believe his words and whether the other person has really positive intentions towards us. Even supposedly well-intentioned lies, like assuring your mother-in-law every time that your casserole is delicious, can either be found out one day and cause disappointment or result in dishonest togetherness in which you have to bend over and pretend. With lies like this, one also rises a little above the other person. This is not a basis for sincere relationships.

Also in the work context Lying has long-term negative effects: Unfortunately, it is unfortunately widespread that, for example, one's own skills are "pimped" in the résumé and job interview and that the facts are also presented in a career-promoting way on the managerial floor. But here, too, other people notice the lack of authenticity, and after a certain period of time in a new position it becomes apparent whether we really have the necessary skills for the job or not. Blenders themselves are not happy at work, because by adjusting they do not find the job that really suits them.

Finally, a major disadvantage of lying, which falls back on the lying himself, is plain and simple stress. In our body, stress hormones are not only released in the situation of lying, but it also costs a lot of energy in the long term to maintain more complex forms of lies. According to studies, stopping "well-meaning" everyday lies - such as false excuses and compliments or exaggerations in order to appear more positive - leads to feelings of tension, melancholy, depressive mood and headaches after just a few weeks. The effort required for inauthentic communication and behavior always has negative emotional consequences. Reason enough to reconsider whether all the small and large contortions of the truth really have to be! As the saying goes: "A clear conscience is a gentle pillow."

How we manage to stick to the truth instead

Better than a lie, no matter how positive it is, is choosing the truth and honesty in interpersonal relationships. But that is often easier said than done. The following five qualities and virtues are needed to leave lying behind. The good news: We can train them all and develop them sustainably.

1. Independent self-worth

A large part of human lies are based on the assumption that if we told the truth we would be less liked by others, or that the feeling of togetherness in a group could suffer if people were to disagree. An important basis to be able to stand up for your own truth towards others is therefore a strong self-worth, which does not depend on constant confirmation and absolute harmony on the outside! Only when we stop attaching the greatest weight to the potential reaction of others and instead regard our own authenticity as the highest good and the decisive reference for the goodness of our behavior, do we free ourselves from the felt compulsion to always have to "smear other people's mouths" and always to be compliant. Read tips on building strong self-esteem here.

2. Separation of person and factual level

Often people also lie because they cannot separate a thing or a behavior from the person: They think that their criticism or rejection of a certain opinion, a skill or a (work) result of another person could act as a pose they immediately question the identity of the other person. If you realize that you can like someone very much and still not like them, if they don't sneeze or cough in the crook of your arm, then it may be easier to tell the truth. This separation of person and factual level also helps to deal better with criticism yourself (read more on the subject of “giving and receiving feedback correctly” here).

3. Diplomacy

Being honest from now on doesn't mean you have to hurt other people! While you have no control over how sensitive someone is to your (critical) feedback, you can ensure that you are speaking the truth as constructively and benevolently as possible. Suppose you want to tell your mother-in-law that you don't like her dish. You can be honest and still convey appreciation, for example: "To be honest, I'm not that big of a fan of onions and bacon in casseroles, but I really like your soup and I'm really happy that you made the effort for To cook me. ”With such a formulation and the mention of other positive aspects, you lay a very good foundation for the fact that the other person does not resent your honesty - and will, for example, like to cook something else for you in the future.

4. Courage

Another quality you need to be honest is a certain amount of courage. Courage, when in doubt, to be the only one in a group who disagrees. Courage to stand alone. Courage to face the consequences of certain decisions, for example when you honestly admit a mistake instead of cheating. It takes courage to fight a fear. So first realize your fear. And then the best way to practice an attitude of courage is to simply trust yourself to be honest again and again - and find that it has no negative consequences. On the contrary: honesty shows respect. On the one hand, we usually respect people more when they stand by their opinion, because it shows strength of character to dare to speak up the truth and to stand by one's own mistakes instead of changing the flag in the wind. And at the same time, we end up treating people we are honest with more respectfully than when we lie to them. Because speaking the truth also means seeing the other person as an equal part of the relationship and trusting them to process honest feedback.

5. Trust

An important attitude that eliminates lying is trust. This includes, for example, trust in the strength of a relationship that can endure if we also have differences or have different opinions. Only those who, for example, address problems with one another, raise awareness of the topic and open the door for a constructive discourse with finding solutions. This applies both to minor everyday conflicts and to “confessing” major mistakes. By positioning ourselves clearly and honestly, we also become more tangible and assessable for others: "The other person wants me to clear my home office documents from the table in the evening - okay, I'll just do it from now on." That will come too benefit our relationships with others and help resolve resentments.

6. Inner drive

After all, we find it easier to stick with the truth when we are happy to undertake the effort and work it can bring. Many people lie to make life more comfortable or to take shortcuts at work. Anyone who is willing to be diligent and sincere, hard work does not need to lie, but rather works for his own success. This applies to small lies out of laziness (“I didn't know how to turn on the washing machine!”) To scheming behavior with which competitors are supposed to be outdone. Instead of making excuses or putting others down, we should always start with ourselves first, inform ourselves proactively and work hard to improve our skills. Success achieved in this way is also much more sustainable.

A plea for more honesty

If you believe the results of surveys, the majority of people think it is okay to "adjust" the truth a little from time to time and to use one or the other lie for this purpose. Unfortunately, it is also common practice in the professional world to reach the finish line faster with shortcuts and perks than would be possible with perseverance and diligence. But back to the plea for the truth: We should value the value of honesty and love of truth much more highly for ourselves as individuals, but also as a society as a whole, and align ourselves with the ideal of expressing ourselves authentically and sincerely. Not only did this save us a lot of emotional and interpersonal stress - we would also encourage the cultivation of other virtues and strengths that make us self-determined, trustworthy people with strong characters.

The most important basis for professional success and personal satisfaction is a lifestyle that is in harmony with your personality. Knowing them is the first step. With our free Trial test we offer you the opportunity to walk through it and get a first glimpse of yourself.