Is telling lies synonymous with dishonesty?

How it works: How to be polite and yet honest

Honest and polite - a contradiction?

Does being honest mean being lonely, as the Swiss writer Max Frisch stated with a slight resignation? And is politeness really nothing more than the most acceptable form of hypocrisy? That's how Frisch's American colleague Ambrose Bierce put it.

Honesty and politeness often seem incompatible. Again and again there are situations in which it looks like you have to choose one or the other. A number of famous minds have grappled with this dilemma in the past.

  • "Sincerity is the virtue of those who have neither imagination nor tact." (Henry de Montherlant, French poet)

  • “A lie is like a snowball. The longer you let it roll, the bigger it gets. " (Martin Luther, German reformer)

  • “The lie kills love. But sincerity kills them all the more. " (Ernest Hemingway, American writer)

  • "There is no better cure for flattery than a friend's sincerity." (Francis Bacon, English philosopher)

As you can see, opinions on whether honesty or politeness should be given top priority are quite divided. The Christian Martin Luther and the philosopher Francis Bacon followed an uncompromising line, while the artists Henry de Montherlant and Ernest Hemingway took a more pragmatic approach to questions of openness.

Hypocrisy and lies are not alternatives

The Königsberg moral philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804) made an outstanding contribution to the importance of truth in daily dealings with one another. His principle: Everyone has a duty to tell the truth - in every situation. Kant's strict principle allows no exceptions. Anyone who tells someone else the untruth - and be it with the best of intentions - is guilty of a lie. An example that comes from Kant himself:

Example: You are stopped by a robber on the street.

The villain is demanding that you hand over all of your money to him. According to Kant, in such a situation you have no choice but to tell the truth. “Why should I do that?” You may now object: The criminal has put himself in the wrong with you, he has forced a situation on you - so a lie for your own protection is not reprehensible after all.

Lies - also white lies - spoil the character

However, Kant fears the following: once you give up your good principles, you do so a second (and a third and fourth) time. Even if your counterpart is a criminal who is outside the law, you should stick to your principles. It is reprehensible to lie to a person, criminal or not.

Never lie - a utopia?

With his Foundation of a metaphysics of morals Kant created a work to guide mankind. But it has one crucial flaw: in extreme situations it overwhelms the individual. Or maybe not? The Bible also has very strict rules; nevertheless, many people read it every day and adjust their behavior according to it.

Pragmatic reasons to stick with the truth

Even if you disagree with Kant's views on morality and honesty, there are good reasons not to lie:
  • If you are not a good actor, the other person will notice that you are not being honest. There is mistrust instead of trust.

  • Lies make life complicated: you have to memorize all the lies in order not to be exposed.

  • Lies have short legs. If a fraud only comes out afterwards, it is even more hurtful than the truth at the right moment.

  • One does not believe anyone who lies once, even if he speaks the truth - that is the saying. Anyone who has once been exposed as a liar has a hard time with other people. Even if he speaks the truth, one doubts his statements.

  • Despite Kant's demand to be equally honest with all people, the following often applies: as you call into the forest, it echoes out. People have less scruples about lying in the face of a criminal than they do to a priest.

How do you manage the balancing act between sincerity and politeness?

But how do you manage to look after your interests without lying and not to hurt other people on top of that? The key to resolving this conflict lies in a winged phrase from musicologist Peter Benary:


How to do everything right at business lunches with foreign business partners

Business lunches break the ice and bring good business - but only if you bring up the RIGHT topics in small talk - and know what to avoid!
  • Are you familiar with the taboo subjects of the Americans?
  • Do you know what French people expect before getting down to business?
  • Do you know the topics of conversation that Italians value?
Attention - in every country there are different customs!

You can find out more about correct manners at international business meals here!

"Be sincere in everything you say, but for the sake of sincerity do not say everything."

When you get into a corresponding situation - as in the Kantian example of meeting you Mugger - you should analyze them carefully. It is even better if you prepare for it in advance, because when the time comes, there is often not enough time!

So, prophylactically, ask yourself this question: How far do I have to go with my sincerity? In this case, can I achieve my goal of keeping my money and remaining unharmed without lying? The following sequence would be conceivable:

Example: a robber stops a victim ...

... and says: "Give me all your money!"

The victim replies: “All my money? I have € 10 in my wallet. There are still various coins in the pocket. Do you also take US dollars? Then I still have my card here. Shall we go to the bank? But there is not much left in the account, less than € 100. But I have more at home. And my credit card is in the desk drawer in my office. That would be more worthwhile. Do you still have a little time? "

The robber loses his nerve and runs away.

The robber runs away from his victim: This admittedly somewhat constructed example is only intended one Show the way that is possible to reach the goal even in an extreme situation without lying. Other ways: give the robber the money that you have loose in your jacket pocket. Or: hand in your wallet and try to get out with your skin intact.

On a day-to-day basis, you are less likely to worry about what you would say to a robber during a robbery. But how would you react in the following situations?

1. Warning: Nobody likes to work in a low mood

Example 1: Bad work ethic

The air in your department is bad. A colleague comes up to you and asks you if something is wrong. She recognized the situation, if not completely - because her slack work attitude is one of the main reasons for the chaos.

Do you pour her pure wine? Or do you honor the good intentions of your colleague, who is apparently genuinely trying to get to the bottom of the matter, with benevolent silence?

As you can see, in principle anyone can become a victim of intrigue or demonstrations of power. The only way to protect yourself from this is to pay close attention to certain warning signs.

Do you pour pure wine for your colleague or are you silent in a benevolent manner?

  • Basically, see it as positive that your colleague is looking for a conversation with you. Otherwise, the conflict would smolder for weeks and put a strain on everyone who works in your department.

  • Assume that your colleague does not like to work in a low mood either. Maybe she didn't even realize that she was one of the causes of the bad atmosphere. One more reason for you to talk about the problem!

  • But before you open your mouth, please consider one thing: Be aware of your feelings. Only then can you deal with the matter objectively. And make yourself aware of your colleague's feelings!

  • Make it clear to yourself what you want to achieve with the conversation: Everyone involved should feel better afterwards. Start the conversation positively, for example by praising your colleague's initiative.

  • Introduce your criticism with a first-person message. In this way, your feelings for the other person can be understood. Just say openly what your aim is - to make the working atmosphere bearable again. But at the same time make sure that you do not want to hurt your counterpart.

This could be your wording

“I think it's good that you took the initiative and came to me. I've also suffered from the atmosphere in the past few weeks.

But I was also annoyed with you. You were often late and not infrequently left earlier. It looked like you pulled out of all of us and were doing your own thing.

I want us to understand each other better again in the future. To do this, we all have to pull together. I am now sure that you will do your part and I will do my best myself. "

2. One-sided friendship: Say no with a clear conscience

Example 2: Unilateral friendship

A friend asks you if you can step in as a babysitter tonight. You have time to do so too. Only, your friend has asked you a lot of favors lately, and you feel too occupied with her.

What's your decision? And what justification do you give her?

Are you allowed to refuse a favor for educational reasons - or is that too much expected of a good friend?

  • First, make it clear to yourself what you would like to do on such an evening: babysitting or a free evening for yourself? If you think there are other times you can step in - and why you don't need to be today - make yourself aware that you want to say no. Even more so if you want to send a signal for the future with your decision.

  • Think about your choice of words and your tone of voice. If you sound uncertain instead of friendly-determined, your no will turn into a vague yes and no. Your friend notices these nuances and thinks: "Well, you could easily have said yes!"

  • Feel free to set your limits. You can say good friends if you feel too busy with them at certain times. You show that you are very helpful, but on the other hand you will not let yourself be exploited and run over. This may cause trouble for a short time, but is good for the friendship in the long run.

  • If your friend does not see this, something is wrong with your friendship!

This could be your wording

"I don't want to take care of your little one tonight." Don't add anything to that for now.

When your friend asks, say, “You have to accept when I say no. I will definitely have time another time. "

If she still insists (“It's only tonight!”), You answer: “You have asked me a lot lately. Sometimes it gets too much for me, and I think it would be better if you split some tasks like babysitting over several shoulders. Don't be angry, but it won't work today. "


Source: Fotolia © WavebreakmediaMicro

To meet others, to sense their unspoken expectations and to smile confidently even in difficult situations: These things do not cost anything. They are nowhere for sale.

But You win Your counterpart and your surroundings in no time with these simple, small gestures. Collect sympathy pointsbefore you have raised your important concern. Achieve your goalswithout having to fight for it. Easy, because you understandto make life a little more comfortable for others. And so there is absolutely no reason to ignore this basis of all good manners - except: You don't know how to do this ...

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3. Serious Illness: How Do You React?

Example 3: Illness

A very good friend of yours has terminal cancer. He would like to spend a cozy evening with you. How do you react when the conversation turns to his illness? Do you honestly share your impressions with your friend: that he looks very upset and that you do not trust yourself to talk to him about his illness, his fears and possibly even about death?

How openly do you deal with a friend's serious illness? This is where people sometimes reach their limits.

  • Friends can expect mutual assistance in any situation. That's the point of friendship. Refusing your friend a visit just because you are afraid of an unpleasant conversation would be an admission that you have reached your limits. And in such a case they should be kept.

  • So once you have decided to visit, the question arises: How open should you be? Is the clear diagnosis really? "Incurable cancer" and if the person concerned knows that too, words would be like "Soon you will be well again" tactless. You would be fooling your counterpart. Such a lie will only cause your friend one more disappointment. Honesty, on the other hand, shows him that he does not have to face the difficult situation completely alone.

  • Even doctors find it difficult to find the right words for the terminally ill. The Großhadern Clinic near Munich even offers special rhetoric seminars for doctors who treat cancer patients. As a friend, you can play an important role in dealing with the disease that a doctor may not even be able to fulfill.

  • Offer to help the friend - but only if you think you can. It will make him a little more confident if you are available to him as a conversation partner during this difficult time. From this he can draw strength and courage for the last phase of life.


Source: Fotolia © saklakova

  • What do you say if someone offers you the "you" but you do not want to accept this offer?
  • How do you apologize if you forget lunch with an important business partner because of all the appointments?
  • How do you teach an employee that they give off an unpleasant body odor?
  • How do you get rid of annoying calls effectively?
  • How do you say “no” without risking yourself being unpopular?
Avoid these and other typical faux pas!

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This could be your wording

Wait until he brings up the topic himself. In general, you should listen more than you speak at first.

  • Ask questions: “Is it okay with you if I visit you more often? Is it enough for you if I'm just there, or would you like to speak to me specifically about your illness? But if you prefer to ignore this topic, I can handle it. "

  • Make it clear to your friend that you enjoy coming to him: “I like to be with you. The disease doesn't change that either. "

  • You don't have to talk all the time, nor do you have to frantically break the silence. Allow silence. Keeping silent together can also create a good feeling.

4. Cancellation with a sure instinct

Example 4: Rejection of an applicant

An applicant has been turned down by your company and you need to drop them a line. There are the well-known formulas for this. In reality, his negligent appearance was the main reason for the rejection.

What do you write in the justification?

In rejections to application letters, there are almost as many lies as before the election and after the hunt. Does it really have to be?

  • Put yourself in the role of the rejected applicant: what would you expect from such a letter? Sentences like "To ease our burden, we will send you our documents back" say nothing at all. And what should he think of a formulation like this: "If we have to inform you that we cannot consider your application, please do not take this as a devaluation of your person or qualification"? Who would seriously think of such an allegation after applying to a reputable employer?

  • The honest reasoning that in reality his careless appearance was the decisive factor in his rejection is more readily accepted than any formula - even if it should be packaged differently in terms of language, for example: "Please do not take it as a criticism of your personality, but in our shop jeans and turtlenecks are not accepted by our customers."

    A success-oriented applicant who is willing to learn will be happy to receive tips through which he can improve. He can work this into the next performance.

  • Remember: rejections are also a calling card for your company! The applicant should feel that you are not randomly rejecting them and that you are taking them seriously. Therefore answer understandingly and address the recipient as individually as possible. An exceptionally worded rejection can also be a good advertisement for your house.

  • You can only respond more succinctly and say that there are no vacancies if you have received a large number of applications. An indication of the number of letters received will help. If an interview has already taken place, you should definitely justify the rejection in detail and individually. Look for a positive, encouraging ending with no formulas!

5. New hairstyle: do you express your displeasure?

Example 5: New hairstyle

A friend had her long hair cut off. They think that doesn't look good. When she asks you how you think about the new hairstyle, you answer ... yes, what?

Once the hair is off, the wearer (or even the wearer) has created facts for a long time. But how do you take your position after you've been asked to do so?

  • First of all, you should find out how your friend finds the new hairstyle on her own. If she is happy with it, you can emphasize her satisfaction in your answer - and finally express your dissenting opinion.

  • Is your friend having a serious problem with the new hairstyle? In such a case, you need to proceed cautiously. "Talk gently" but doesn’t mean for a long time "Gloss over"!

  • This is where the so-called folding sleeve feedback proves its worth: wrap your criticism in something positive. Start with a compliment that has nothing to do with the hair directly. Next, give your honest judgment on the new hairstyle. Use nice words and avoid stupid sayings like "There are nice caps and hats". With verdicts of the kind "You don't look particularly advantageous with it" don't build anyone up either. At the end, be sure to add a conciliatory sentence, such as that a short hairstyle does not have to last forever.

This could be your wording

  • Start with something nice: "First of all, I think you still look very good."

  • Then tell the truth: "If you want an honest answer: I think long hair is great, that's why I liked your old hairstyle better."

  • Finally, look positively into the future: “If you are comfortable with the short hair, then you should leave the hairstyle like that. If you are unsure yourself: What is preventing you from growing your hair again? "

The conscience, as Immanuel Kant put it, is the consciousness of an inner court in man. The more modern model by the Italian writer Giovanni Guareschi is more plastic.

With the figure of Don Camillo he created a rogue, but still moral figure. Whenever the Catholic pastor finds himself in conflict with his opponent, the communist mayor Peppone, he communicates with Jesus in the church. And, oh wonder, Jesus speaks to him!

But it is not Jesus who answers, but Don Camillo's conscience. When the man of God under the cross in speech and counter-speech (the communist Peppone would say: using Marxian dialectics) fathoms the pros and cons, he comes to a decision with which all those affected can live well - not least himself. That makes him appear sympathetic even with his opponents on the left.

What is good for everyone concerned?

When it comes to honest and polite answers, ask yourself: How can everyone live with it? There is nothing wrong with starting with yourself in answering this question. Provided that you don't stop with yourself and include the interests of others in your decision-making.

Those who - like Don Camillo - critically examine the pros and cons will come to a good solution. Acting morally, formulating diplomatically is the silver bullet that you should follow. According to Guareschi, a diplomat is someone who speaks openly what he does not think. Of course, the reverse also applies:

You don't have to say everything you think
but you should think carefully about what you are saying.

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