I should probably start by saying, I’m not about to tell you to be more ‘fake news’ or preach the virtues of lying. There are many occasions where honesty is of absolute importance. However, as someone who’s always taken pride in being 100% genuine, I’ve also reluctantly come to understand how this can run you into trouble. In some situations, your level of honesty should be tactfully reduced. I’m not talking about pretending to like a Birthday gift, or your friend’s dog Jerry, but in being honest about either what you want, or what you feel. I began to understand this in a professional context but once I saw some of the errors I’d made in attempting to be an ‘open book’, I realised that there were other situations where I’d come to regret my honesty.
The phrase “honesty is the best policy”, is thrown around all the time. Some light googling told me that the phrase is credited to one of the founding fathers of America, Benjamin Franklin (though maybe he was just the first to write it down). I was fortunate enough to grow up in an environment which championed honesty and truthfulness. Lying was a punishable offence which could be reduced by ‘coming clean’. I’ve always valued honesty and this has served me well in building many solid friendships as well as close bonds amongst family. These are relationships which can only be built on the respect which comes from knowing one another’s truth. There is however, a significant difference between being truthful in your way of living, and telling people your whole truth, all the time. The latter is what I’m trying to consciously unlearn.
A couple of years ago, I was chatting with a mentor explaining my professional frustrations; lack of opportunity, slow progression – the usual. After hearing me rant for a while she said to me, “I appreciate its painful but you kind of just need to play the game a bit”. I smiled and nodded and thought to myself, “urm, no. I don’t play games. I am honest and what you see is what you get. There aren’t any false covers on this book”. She was right of course. Whilst I wanted to see things as black and white and was seeking a ‘you get what you deserve’ culture, work place politics are far more complex than that. I was making the mistake of thinking people really cared about my feelings and where I thought I should be, which of course only I really care about. Sharing how you feel in this context is really more about self-indulgence than being genuine.
If we look at open-ness within the context of a relationship, most of us have had that feeling of regret. A pang of guilt felt after being unreasonable with a partner or cruel during an argument. So they didn’t put their shoes on the new rack you bought, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a total disregard for the care you put into making your house a home… Something you recognise in hindsight but at the time of discovering those shoes, felt injured by. Through trying to be ‘honest’ with your partner, you’ve allowed yourself to indulge feelings which pass quickly and aren’t necessarily true thoughts or opinions.
Beyond allowing you to indulge your emotions, there are situations where being honest can hinder your progression in life. Another common saying is ‘fake it till you make it’, and this one is definitely valid. For example, by declaring yourself ‘a professional singer’ you can ask to be paid to perform, regardless of whether you’ve ever been paid before. Whereas by saying ‘I sing but no-one’s paying me for it’ you’re much less likely to find people putting their hands in their pockets to be the first. Often to make change happen we have to affirm its going to and then watch it happen. Just because things are a certain way, its OK that you don’t always want them to remain that way and it may take something other than complete honesty to get this off the ground.
Going back to the professional circumstances, despite questioning whether it was moral to be disingenuous, it was clear I wasn’t getting anywhere by ramming exactly what I wanted down people’s throats. In your office, guess who else thinks they’re underpaid, under-appreciated and due a promotion… pretty much everyone. Handling conversations and colleagues with tact and respect should be the priority over being ‘open and honest’. Unfortunately, being an open book is sometimes not actually that interesting.
Knowing when to be yourself, and when to keep some of that ‘self’ inside you isn’t a black and white strategy, but sometimes knowing when not to open up can be more powerful than knowing when to. Emotions pass but words can’t be unsaid.
Lexy is a writer, DJ and marketing professional living in London. She is a gemini and a feminist who loves coffee and leopard print. Instagram.com/lexonthedecks