Far too often, we use honesty as an excuse to be disrespectful to people, without even realizing how the truth sounds from their perspective. If this changes, we can learn to be around each other without treading on each other’s egos. This is where common sense and the relevance/context of what you are saying become essential.
To be honest, without hurting someone else’s sentiments and understanding the dimensions of honesty is a sign of maturity and emotional intelligence. To do this, we must keep the following points in mind.
1. Much of what you think you are honest about boils down to feelings and opinions rather than objective facts. So you may think you are accurate, but you are just expressing an opinion. Usually, it is not the opinion itself, but the person it is coming from that is hurtful.
2. There are ways to tell the truth while also being tactful. The tone of voice, body language, and choice of words are some of them. For example, if you want to inform your partner of your interaction with a specific individual, whom you know they are insecure about, you could moderate the intensity of how you are saying it, rather than describing every little detail of how you enjoyed the interaction.
3. Much information is not required to be given. Big and important things, yes. However, small things, like what you dreamt about, for example, can be avoided entirely.
4. Timing matters a lot. If you want to express something, you are better off waiting for the appropriate moment. For example, if someone you are close to has just failed in an exam, it is not advisable to talk about how well you have done, even if it is true.
5. Think about the relevance of what you are saying. Is what you are honest about really required, concerning the situation? For example, if your friend is just about to go to the gym, and they ask you how they look, a better way of answering would be to tell them that their appearance does not matter when they are going to the gym, and not that they look terrible. Both statements may be honest, but one is relevant, while the other is hurtful.
6. Do not generalize that your feelings towards the other person are shared by everyone else. If, during an argument with someone, you declare that nobody likes them, for example, you may think that it is right at the moment, but you may not realize that your assumption is based on only your interactions with a few people.
7. Consider the sentiments of the other person. Suppose you are aware that the other is insecure about something, and you are genuinely confident in the intent behind your actions. In this case, it is better to avoid bringing that topic up altogether. For example, if you know that your partner dislikes your ex, and on the same day you happen to pass by them and smile at them, you need not tell your partner about the interaction. Withholding certain information from someone, mainly when they are insecure, may often prove to be a sign of your maturity in the face of the other’s insecurity.
8. Honesty is reciprocal in nature. Suppose you think you can say whatever you want under the banner of being honest and expect the other person to be unhurt as a result, you should also follow the same. In my experience, however, I have found few who exercise this.
Honesty is like a knife. Some of us use it far too often, and for all the wrong reasons, to hurt the people we care about. Sometimes, it is better to be sensible than to be honest. Honest words are only one dimension of honesty. There are many dimensions to it: honest thoughts, honest actions, honest intentions, honest emotions, and honest expression, to name a few.
If you want to be honest with someone, you have to embrace all the dimensions of honesty. The next time you find yourself speaking from a place of honesty, ask yourself whether you are embracing only one aspect of honesty – honest words – to hurt someone’s feelings.