Truth Will Tell
Why Can’t We Be Honest?
By: Steven Gaffney
The truth is we all lie. In fact, according to a national study, 91 percent of people admit to lying on a regular basis (and I wonder about the other 9 percent). We all lie or withhold information to some extent. It’s not because we’re all malicious or ethically flawed (though some may be); it is primarily because we are afraid. We may be afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, or afraid of retribution, or afraid of permanently damaging a relationship, or afraid of a negative impact on our life or career.
When you withhold feedback, you may think of it as “keeping the peace” – whether that’s at home or at work or in close friendships. To keep the peace, perhaps you’ve stopped telling your spouse how you feel about their lack of contribution to the household chores. Maybe you’ve even left a job because you just can’t speak up about the real problem at work.
The trouble is that when you don’t take steps to resolve issues, they don’t go away. Instead, they escalate. They consume your thoughts and they threaten your relationships. So when you stop talking to your husband about the fact that he doesn’t help with any of the housecleaning, the issue mushrooms. You feel more and more frustrated and less and less connected to him. And what could have been an easier conversation about a couple of occurrences can escalate into an unfocused and unproductive argument or into a silent and devastating retreat.
Being honest isn’t always easy, but it is imperative to maintaining the bond of trust. And because trust is the foundation of all relationships, honest communication is the key to developing and building the relationships we desire.
Honesty takes strategy, skill, and practice. After all, you don’t go out and exercise once and declare, “Now I’m healthy.” Instead, you work on it, and you keep at it. The idea is to make improvements – you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be willing to try and to feel awkward for a while.
Here are some tips as you seek to make the leap from withholding to being honest – full disclosure:
- Identify what you’re afraid of. Why are you keeping information or feelings to yourself?
- Consider the cost of keeping quiet. What will the long-term impact be?
- Recognize your own responsibility in any problem that’s occurring. Even if it is 10 percent you and 90 percent the other person, focus 100 percent of your energy on your part.
- When you have the conversation, say what needs to be said but respect the difference between honesty and brutality. Be clear on the facts and be careful not to accuse or blame.
- As you listen, remind yourself that you do not know what is really going on in the other person’s head.
- Check-in with what you “imagine” (your opinions, thoughts, and conclusions) by asking probing – not accusing – questions. You may not be fully aware of everything that is going on.
- Don’t just share and complain. Make requests, suggest ideas, and focus on finding a solution. And remember the difference between asking vs. demanding.
- State the benefits. Explain how what you want is beneficial for the other person too.
Above all model and reward the behavior you seek in others. Encourage and appreciate the feedback you receive in all of your relationships – even when it is unpleasant. Better to know than to not know.
Imagine if you and everyone around you talked more openly and shared ideas and wisdom. Share this article with the people around you and discuss it. Ask each other: Are we really being honest with one other?
It is not what we are saying, it is what we are not saying that often holds the keys to having the relationships we want. The way to change your future is by changing today. What are you willing to do today?