Surrounded by lies: Why people don't tell the truth - 5 steps [+ checklists]


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Text comes from: Wie man jede Lüge erkennt. Zeichen verstehen, Täuschung durchschauen, Wahrheit ermitteln (2011) of Pamela Meyer, published by Münchener Verlagsgruppe (MVG), Reprints by friendly permission of the publisher.
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We are surrounded by lies every day, much more than we think. But why can't we unconditionally trust others? 5 findings.

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Pamela Meyer is a certified fraud examiner and entrepreneur.

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Don't make it too easy for others

Jane Sullivan willingly admits that it has made it easy for the manager of an investment company to make her $ 250.000 easier - her retirement savings. Jane had invested in a diamond mine in South Africa; it was a project led by the Chicago real estate company WexTrust Capital. The managing director confidently predicted over 30 percent profit, so it was an enticing offer.

But while many would have considered this offer to be suspect - or simply enormously risky - due to the enormous returns, Jane had decided to go crazy and invest a quarter of a million dollars. However, a few months later everything came to light. The manager had organized a classic pyramid scheme - with early investors making profitable profits from those below in the hierarchy. And to Jane's chagrin, she later found that she was the last investor before the stock exchange regulator came on the scene.

Why do intelligent people fall for convicted fraudsters?

Jane is by no means a naive beginner in financial matters. She had an MBA from one of the world's most prestigious business schools, a thriving business in Paris, and successfully bought or sold real estate before moving to New York at the age of 50 to make a living from her investment income. So how could she fall victim to such fraud? Why was the managing director able to wrap it around his finger? "I was just stupid," she admits. “I saw things that seemed questionable to me and ignored them. I just wanted to believe that everything was true. ”

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It wasn't that the manager was a slick Wall Street trader. 'He was an extremely disgusting person. He was sweating profusely and was obese, ”Jane recalls her first meeting with him. 'But he was very easy to deal with. In a matter of minutes, I felt I knew him and that he was a good friend. ”Joseph Shereshevsky, however, was a convicted fraudster who pleaded guilty to bank fraud in 2003. But of course Jane didn't know about that. “He knows how to wrap people around his finger. That is his great talent - at the end of the interview I asked a lot of questions, looked at a lot of data and heard countless anecdotes from him. «

How to wrap people around the finger

What had drawn her attention in particular was the prospect of making 30 to 80 percent profit - for at least sixteen years. That seemed incredible, but it was ultimately a diamond mine. She discussed the business with her brother-in-law, an experienced investor who had already made millions in sales. He was also fascinated by the potential benefits, so they met Shereshevsky a few times to learn more about the project and diamond mines in general. But as Jane became increasingly interested in the investment, she also discovered a number of inconsistencies in the filing - numbers that don't Sense revealed significant shortcomings in legal documents - to which Shereshevsky addressed.

“He had an answer every time. It was not necessarily an answer that I had particular faith in. But because he answered me at all, I just stopped worrying about problems. ”Usually Jane is a very sharp businesswoman. Such mistakes should have suggested at least a lack of professionalism - and a high risk that she took. So what was the reason that she made such a serious misjudgment? Why didn't she jump off in time? She is remarkably frank in her self-assessment: “I was blinded by greed. I wanted to believe it all. ”

Lies in history

Deception and betrayal have always been an integral part of human life. The earliest evidence in history and the traditions on which our world religions and cultures are based reveal an endless flood of lies that have been spread to gain food, sex and power:

  • A 17.000-year-old cave painting in the Pyrenees depicts a hunter who uses furs and deer antlers to make it easier for them to approach the herd disguised as a reindeer.
  • In Greek mythology, Zeus, who wants to seduce Hera, turns into a cuckoo and takes refuge in her arms during a self-inflicted storm to arouse her pity.
  • In the book of Genesis, Cain kills Abel out of jealousy and lies to God when he inquires about Abel's whereabouts: “I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper? ”

Trust versus Deception: An Evolutionary Arms Race

All right: we have to trust to survive. Paradoxically, we also have to lie to survive. Deception gives a clear advantage to those who get away with it. In the same way - and that makes it even more complicated - this also does the expertly uncovering lies. Let's take another look at our ancestors to understand why both are true. Imagine a tribe of primeval people during a famine. In times when food was still in abundance, it made sense to share.

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Because the tribe members were sure to have a constant supply, they could afford to be generous with others and contribute to the well-being of the tribe. But when food became scarce, members of the tribe who built up secret supplies had a greater chance of survival ... especially if they lied and claimed they had no hoarded food. Conversely, other members of the tribe had a survival advantage if they recognized the lies of their dishonest brothers and were able to claim the hamster supplies for themselves. And so the evolutionary arms race began.

The art of lying is firmly anchored in the human brain

Do we really live in a dishonest time? Are people really so much less trustworthy these days than 100 years ago? Unlikely. The human being has hardly changed over time. The art of lying - if it is one - seems to be firmly anchored in the human brain. People who can neither lie nor recognize lies are socially at a disadvantage. There is even evidence that the inability to deceive or to recognize deceptions as such is an indication of atypical brain development.

In a study by British researchers in collaboration with the University of Halle in 2006, the Germans also did not get away well. The majority of them obviously do not abide by the law, and according to the surveys, cheating, tricking and defrauding seem to be the order of the day in Germany too - deficiencies in the sale of the used car are concealed without scruple, television fees are not paid, excessive claims on insurance companies or you secretly let some office supplies go with you.

Who lies when?

Their own behavior is often justified in response to the immoral conditions in society and the economy. Dishonesty in the workplace, in particular, is much more extensive and occurs much more frequently than most people can or want to believe. Another study found that numerous lies were uncovered over the course of a week, in

  • 37 percent of phone calls,
  • 27 percent of face-to-face conversations
  • 21 percent of short messages and
  • 14 percent of emails.

Of these forms of communication, only emails and short messages leave a written record, which explains why they appear to be more sincere. If you work in the home office or alone in a branch, you are still far away from the rich pool of subtle information transfer.

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Lies and manipulation - identify typical situations in 5 steps

Those of us who go to the office every day at least meet their colleagues on the way to the toilet or in the parking lot. But the partner's tense jaw when he is angry, the glance that a manager throws at his assistant, the crooked grin of the boss when he gives an unpleasant task - all these facial expressions that provide clues to the inner state of the person opposite , miss out on millions of workers who now work from home. It has become common to do business with people you have never met or talked to in person.

1. We are lied to 200 times a day

But that's not all. Various studies have shown that most of us are lied to about 200 times a day. If you count yourself among the lucky ones who are granted eight hours of sleep per night, this means that you will be confronted with about twelve lies an hour. The majority of these 200 falsehoods consist of so-called politeness lies, which are expressed to keep a conversation going.

  • "Of course I would like to see your vacation photos," we pretend to the man sitting next to us on the train, secretly hoping that he has not saved more than 500 pictures on his camera. Or we flicker to establish a common basis with the conversation partner:
  • "It's a great jacket," we enthuse, thinking: "... maybe for Aunt Frieda's lapdog." We may also want to cover up an embarrassment with a little white lie:
  • "I'm terribly sorry I'm late - the traffic was chaos." The streets were really quiet, but who would admit that he almost missed his date?

2. Attention manipulation

Courtesy lies are not the problem. However, the ten or so lies that we hear every day and that - if we knew about them - would weigh heavily on the decisions we make regarding our career, industry, closest relationships and private life:

  • »This is an interesting offer. I will present it to the board. "-" Don't listen to the schemers. Our own chapter is growing like crazy. «
  • “We're definitely looking for someone with your skills. I will immediately forward your application portfolio to the HR department. «
  • "If these weren't promising growth markets, I wouldn't recommend investing."
  • “I'm stuck in Chicago, honey. I had no choice, the customer insisted on another dinner together. «
  • »There is only one condominium left. … I would strike immediately if I were you. ”

3. Dangerous lies

Such lies are dangerous. Not noticing it is like overlooking a sign warning of quicksand. Fortunately, with just a little practice, you can learn to interpret telltale signals so that you can instantly recognize attempts at deception. Only rarely will a lie slip through the net. In order to achieve this goal, I would like to expand your background knowledge and take a historical review: First of all, we should consider the question of why and how lies in our culture could get out of hand. And we should ask ourselves what lies we should really be worried about.

  • Resist the urge to add missing information when listening to someone. Pay attention only to what is said or not said. Again and again we miss important signs that indicate deception.

4. Bad news for business culture

The assessment of how our business culture appears to be doing is even darker when you consider the following:

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  • Surveys show that most people admit to having a less guilty conscience when they are dishonest at work than when they lie privately - and it's not just about using supplies of office supplies.
  • A study also found that 66 percent of job applicants were misled as to the company's financial status.
  • An overwhelming majority - 83 percent - of college students lie about applying for a job and have virtually no guilty conscience because they "know" that everyone else does.
  • In a study, about half of all employed people admitted that they had committed at least one unethical and / or illegal act during the year.
  • As part of a study: All negotiating partners either lied about a problem or kept it to themselves until they were addressed directly.

5. Lies as an ability to survive

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Center at Cambridge University, explains that autistic children don't always realize that people are saying things they don't mean. "There is only one version of reality for an autistic child," explains Baron-Cohen. “The other version - the world of beliefs and intentions - may be one that it seldom sees, or that it understands too slowly or too late.

This tells us something very important: that the skills you need to survive and manage in a social environment include reading minds and recognizing intentions and desires - and that the ability to deceive is rather an indication of this that a child develops typical social skills. ”Lies therefore appear to be an essential, though sometimes less welcome, part of human interaction. And as noted earlier, this doesn't just affect the human species! The literature gives examples of how animals lie:

  • Some male fish deceive their rivals when it comes to choosing their partner: When competitors penetrate their territory, male Atlantic carvings tend to make female sexual advances that are not their first choice.
  • A laboratory raven named Hugin, who was upset that a member of his species had tried to steal his goodies, pretended to have found food elsewhere. As the second raven approached to claim the food, Hugin hurried back to the place where the goodies were actually hidden.
  • And, of course, from the ranks of mammals: Koko - the famous gorilla lady that scientists have taught to communicate with signs - claimed that a kitten was responsible for tearing a sink out of the wall.

The real gain of truth

Of course, there is a practical benefit in learning quickly who you can trust. When a human resources manager has a choice of ten flawlessly dressed applicants, they can quickly find out who to hire. If a managing director is dealing with a handful of journalists who want to conduct a personal interview with him, he can reliably assess who will deliver a truthful story and who will refrain from "self-interpretation". A consultant can confidently choose a client or employer who will also pay him on time.

But we don't go to the gym to get stronger and to train more and more. Rather, we keep fit because after every strenuous workout, we feel good about being full of energy and because it improves our chances of living a long, healthy life. Similarly, you don't learn how to uncover deceptions to unmask someone as a liar. Rather, we train our skills to strengthen our relationships and to gather a small circle of unconditionally loyal, reliable colleagues and friends around us, to sharpen our instincts, to increase our productivity, to gain more trust in ourselves and to improve our working environment . It is not a matter of simply making others lie. Rather, the focus is on creating an environment in the long term in which we can trust our fellow human beings.

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