Honesty is Overrated

We live in an age where authenticity is encouraged and valued. We generally define authenticity as being genuine and truthful, which usually means being honest, certainly to yourself, if not to others. I like to think of myself as honest; in fact I’ve been told I am “brutally honest” at times – always with love of course.

What I’ve come to observe and learn is that honesty is not always the best policy.

Now, I’m not talking about lying to be clear. When my son said he was going upstairs to the pool and instead he took my car and went out with friends – that was a straight-up lie with dangerous consequences, the most dangerous of which was my wrath.

No, I’m talking about “filtering with discernment.”

In the heat of the moment, or in the spirit of full disclosure we sometimes are inclined to dump everything we know or feel about something on to someone but with unintended consequences. Holding back on some of the facts or deepest heart-felt emotions could spare you and the other person major heartburn in the short-term and even make room for a better relationship long-term. Here are some things to consider before spilling your guts:

  • Is the intended recipient of your “truth” ready to hear it? That is, do they have the maturity, self-awareness and desire to process your comments in a way that can fortify your relationship?
  • Might they use it against you in some way?
  • Is there a better time to reveal this truth?

Keep in mind, your “truth” isn’t necessarily an “absolute truth,” meaning you might feel someone did something heinously wrong, when they don’t even realize it. Your righteousness will likely be wasted and you will frustrate yourself. “Filter with discernment” to maintain your composure, even gain leverage in the situation. Not everyone is your friend and not everyone needs to know everything that happened or about your deepest feelings.

Start by being honest with yourself, use your filter of discernment, and let other things sort themselves out.

Virginia Clarke
About the author: 

Virginia “Ginny” Clarke is the Director – Leadership Staffing at Google.  Previously, she was President and CEO of Talent Optimization Partners, a retained executive search and talent management consulting firm, specializing in diversity searches.  Ginny’s executive career includes Partner positions with Spencer Stuart and Knightsbridge Executive Search, and she is the author of the book “Career Mapping: Charting Your Course in the new World of Work”.  She holds an undergraduate degree from University of California – Davis, and an MBA from Northwestern University – Kellogg School of Management.  Follow her on Twitter.