That joke pretty much sums up my relationship with honesty. Which means, I’ve learned when someone says they want you to be totally honest- don’t listen to them. They’re obviously fooling themself. Honesty is social dynamite. When you tell someone your unvarnished opinion most of the time you explode their carefully crafted view of themself, their work, their relationship, whatever.
The trouble is we often mistake honesty, the facts and the truth as being the same thing. They’re not. Truth is for courtrooms and mathematical proofs. Facts are for textbooks. Honesty is just a matter of opinion. It’s ironic that the language we use for truth, facts and honesty is all so misunderstood, so misused and so terribly misleading. They are NOT the same thing.
Now, let’s be clear… I’M NOT SUGGESTING YOU LIE. NEVER. NEVER EVER.
Nor, do I suggest you massage the facts in your favor, or bend the truth.
However, there are different ways to be honest. There’s a word to describe the practice of learning to share your honesty- tact. It’s super-important to learn how to apply tact when you communicate with others.
If you try using some of these techniques, and figure out which ones work for you, you’re likely to save your face from unnecessary slaps. Trust me on that. I learned the hard way. I’ve been slapped, punched, knee’d, left at gas stations, screamed at in parking lots, and I once convinced a friend to give up writing after I read his first novel and told him my honest opinion. Don’t worry about him, he’s now a very successful lawyer and he doesn’t hate me for telling him “the truth” about his book. My point is I tend to learn things the hard way. You don’t have to. If you consider these ground rules, you can easily learn how to be honest with others.
1. Being Honest With Friends…
With friends, it’s easier than with most others in your life. Unlike your family or co-workers, you pick your friends. There’s a natural equality in the relationship. Yet, in friendships there are often secrets, jealousies, resentments, and all sorts of shit that can fester over time and make it way harder to be honest with a friend.
The best advice I ever heard was… Be blunt. State your honest opinion as fast as you can. Then quickly follows that with an explanation of why whatever you’re saying is “true for you.”
Let’s say your friend asks you about her new boyfriend. This is always a dicey proposition. Many friendships suffer when romantic advice is given or requested. A surefire way to avoid hurt feelings is do the exact opposite of what you think you should do or say. Rather than sugarcoat it as you hunt for positive aspects about the guy- start with your negative opinion. Be brutally honest. And then quickly move on to a positive outcome. For instance, you might say:
“Well… I think he’s a half-assed scumbag. If he had any ambition he might be a total scumbag but instead he’s just a cold-water douche. But hey, maybe you just need to get that out of your system. He could be a cute appetizer to make you hungry for your next real boyfriend. And maybe that guy won’t piss in your bed because he’s a blackout drunk unemployed musician with nothing better to do than crash at your place. Heck, your next boyfriend might even like, I dunno, take care of you when you’re sick. Instead, of ditch you because he’s afraid he’ll catch your cold and lose his voice before his show. Like he’ll care about you for real. Wouldn’t that be cool?”
See how that works? You move from negative and work towards the positive.
2. Being Honest With The People You Live With…
If you have trouble telling the truth to someone you live with… all I can say is… Don’t hesitate. It only makes shit worse when you stall. Avoiding them will drive you crazy. And one other thing… please, for the love of all things holy and profane, NEVER EVER leave some passive-aggressive note on the fridge. Those things are worse than parking tickets. No one likes that shit.
With the people you live with, be honest with them… face-to-face. Remember you have to live with them. So don’t crush their esteem over something that doesn’t matter like whether or not they make a good tofu curry. Just say it was “surprising” and then go back to watching “Game of Thrones.” Some things a person just has to learn on their own… like the fact they make a terrible curry. But let’s say it drives you nuts how they eat all your ice cream, you gotta say something about that shit before you start stealing their expensive shampoo to get back at them because you feel “they owe you.”
3. Being Honest With Your Parents…
With the people who made you and raised you, it’s important to be respectful. And you have to find a way they can hear what you honestly need to tell them.
If you plan to tell them something you know will surprise or shock them, such as you plan to drop out of school, or you want to quit your job and move to Mozambique, those sorts of plans sound better within a context… such as your greater health, happiness and well-being.
They’re your parents. Usually, but not always, parents want their children to be happy. The difficulty arises because they believe they know better what’ll make you happy… “in the long run.” It’s a competition of who has the better idea for your future.
So when you shock them, frame your honesty inside your happiness and have a plan that “in the long run” makes some sense. And then remind them no one knows anything about the future. Try something like this:
“Mom, I want you to be the first to know, I’m moving to Mozambique. I feel a calling to do something for this world. Following the values you taught me, I need to go. It’s either Mozambique or I move to Iraq and help clear landmines from the desert.”
See how Mozambique is suddenly a better idea? Your parents are gonna worry about you. Mozambique minimizes their concerns by giving them a better option of what to worry about. The key with parents is to let them know what matters to you, as you subtly suggest they made you this way, but in a good way, and then tell them the facts so they can hear them and digest what they mean. I found if I chose the lesser of two bad ideas it really helped move the conversation along.
4. Telling Your Boss the Truth…
Like your parents, your boss feels like he/she has the right to demand honesty. But like everyone else, they don’t really want your honesty. They want respect and results. And the unequal power dynamic makes it difficult to withhold your opinions… so be forthright, be respectful, tell them “the truth” just arrange the order of how you tell it. Focus on the sequence.
For instance, maybe their new idea for an ad campaign totally blows. Let them know their idea sucks worse than a dog-shit lollipop. But more importantly, tell them why your idea is better. Again, do this subtly. Tell them your new idea. Once your idea intrigues them, dismiss their idea but point out how their idea was the springboard that helped you find a new solution. Don’t say it’s better, just “new.” Naturally, they’ll want to claim credit. If you’re smart, you’ll let them… because you never want to make your boss look bad. Just make sure they know and remember it was your idea. This “truth” can and should stay between you two. No one else needs to know. And if your idea is better, trust me, they’ll come back to you again in the future.
5. Being Honest With The Person You Love…
This may be one of the most difficult times to be completely honest. Despite the risks… ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH to your significant other. Don’t wait. Don’t leave stuff out. Don’t lie by omission. And definitely don’t change the facts. …However, you can pick the best time to be honest about your opinion. In relationships, it’s all about timing!
Like handing someone fine china, you wanna handle your honesty delicately. Let your partner speak. Hear them out. When he/she asks if… you imagine having a house and kids, which to you seems a long way off, say that. Be honest. Tell them you’ve imagined it… in the future. And right now, you want to talk about your summer plans to vacation in the Bahamas. I find discussions of trips to tropical islands and having kids don’t really go together. It’s like chowing on sushi and planning a funeral at the same time. But since you expressed how you do indeed imagine a future together, you’ll allay your partner’s fears and give yourself time to deal with any of yours. In the meantime, you two can bond poolside at a hotel in beautiful Nassau.
6. Being Honest With Yourself…
This is the trickiest one. Because you know the facts, you know your truth, and you know when and if you’re being honest. Well… most of the time you do. We all have ways of deluding ourselves. Your subconscious is hell of a trickster. In order to overcome any self-protective mechanisms, once again… be blunt. Be harsh. Be relentless with your opinion. Part of you already knows how you feel.
If you wanna chuck it all and go live-off-the-grid. Be honest with yourself about it. Admit you want be gonzo and live as a free woman or man. But you really should try camping for two solid weeks before you sell all your possessions.
If you ignore your dreams, if you disregard your unspoken truth, if you refuse to listen to your little voice inside, you risk serious illness, you invite compulsive behaviors and you will suffer from unnecessary stress. You’re the person you should be the most honest with because you can’t fool yourself.
Honesty is a gift you give to yourself and others.
…And just like a present it’s best received when you gift-wrap that shit.
Pretty it up a little. Consider the presentation. Yes, it’d still be the same “gift” if you tossed someone a paper bag with some earrings inside and said, “Happy Fucking Birthday. You’re welcome!”
However, part of the fun of giving a gift is how you make it special. Once you try it a few times, you’ll find it works really well when you…
…Gift-wrap your honesty with tact.