Oh man, do I really need to write this post? I do, but not for the reason you may think. Yes, there are people who lie, and we will deal with that. The bigger problem is that, in our culture, honesty is a fluid concept with many different definitions. So let’s break them down.
Brutal Honesty. This is often billed as “I just say what I mean and mean what I say.” It’s possible I used to be one of these people. I believe this is a cover for people who don’t have good emotional intelligence. Most people use it as an excuse to say whatever they like and blame others for feeling hurt. Our culture is built on not being brutally honest. Sometimes absolute honesty is necessary: if you’re not happy in your relationship, if your children need more direction, if you have a really good relationship with a boss, and if you have to give constructive feedback to students or subordinates. This can be done without being brutally honest. Think about what the word brutal means: savage, cruel, and inhuman. When you’re being brutally honest, you’re not considering the other person’s feelings at all. The vast vast majority of the time, I think you can be authentic without being brutally honest.
Strategic Honesty. You must always be authentic. But that doesn’t mean you have to be brutally honest and tell everyone everything you’re thinking. For example, if you’re currently in a bad job situation and are interviewing for a new position, don’t go on about how terrible the place you are working is. Be authentic about why you’re looking for a new job: new or different opportunities, better family dynamics, more direct leadership and vision, whatever. If you are asked point blank, “Do you like where you currently work?” you should answer honestly. But, again, strategically. “I like interacting with clients and my staff are great. I do have some challenges with leadership, as I feel they don’t give me enough direction or support in my decision making. I want to be better and so seek out feedback, which is difficult to get.” Be humble- acknowledge what YOU could be doing to contribute to a less-than-ideal situation. “It’s not a good fit for me because I need leadership which will create clear expectations for me.”
Dishonesty. Do not be dishonest. Period. Being dishonest is not being authentic. People will not trust you or have faith in you. Trust is the foundation for our entire civilization. According to the book Sapiens, chimpanzees aren’t running the world partly because they don’t cooperate because they have no basis of establishing trust with chimpanzees who aren’t in their tribe. If you make a medical error, accept responsibility. If you make a decision which turns out badly, accept responsibility. Don’t take actions for which you will have to lie. I understand life is complex, but, if you want to be successful, you have to live an authentic life.
Honesty is a nuanced concept. People wield the idea like a club to get others to do what they want. At the end of the day, you’re the one who has to decide how you will live, and you have to deal with the consequences of those decisions. My recommendation is Strategic Honesty.
What are circumstances you have encountered which have challenged your ability to be authentic?