Before you read any further, let me get it upfront. Honesty is a virtue, and in relationships, honesty is what makes a relationship authentic. Without honesty, your ‘relationship’ is one big pretend. You knew that before you even clicked on this article.
In fact everybody probably knows that honesty is important in relationships. A recent study published in the Journal of Experiment Psychology exploring the consequences of honesty in everyday life determined that people can often afford to be more honest than they think.
Researchers Emma Levine, a Chicago Booth Assistant Professor and Carnegie Mellon University’s Taya Cohen concluded that fears of the consequences of honesty in everyday life are often misguided.
“We’re often reluctant to have completely honest conversations with others. We think offering critical feedback or opening up about our secrets will be uncomfortable for both us and the people with whom we are talking” but that’s not the case.
For purposes of the study, the researchers define honesty as “speaking in accordance with one’s own beliefs, thoughts and feelings.”
In one field experiment, participants were instructed to be completely honest with everyone in their lives for three days. In a laboratory experiment, participants had to be honest with a close relational partner while answering personal and potentially difficult discussion questions A third experiment instructed participants to honestly share negative feedback to a close relational partner.
Across all the experiments, individuals expected honesty to be less pleasant and less social connecting than it actually is.
“Taken together, these findings suggest that individuals’ avoidance of honesty may be a mistake,” the researchers write. “By avoiding honesty, individuals miss out on opportunities that they appreciate in the long-run, and that they would want to repeat.”
Now, before you go speaking in accordance with your own beliefs, thoughts and feelings, keep in mind that just because you can say something doesn’t always mean you should.
You’re invited to your future in-law’s for dinner. It’s your first time meeting your future father in-law and your first impression of him is that he’s a narcissist and a total loud-mouth who if he had not inherited his wealth would probably be a conman in a cheap suit. Those are your honest thoughts and feelings.
Later when your boyfriend asks you “So, what do you think of my father?” You’ll be a complete fool to be completely honest even everything about that man is true. An emotionally intelligent person will say something that’s 100% honest and also avoid a nasty fight or break-up. Something like, “Your dad is interesting. He’s been to 23 countries. I don’t know that many people who’ve traveled like he has” is being 100% honest without being 100% honest.
You meet your girlfriend’s mother for the first time and your first impression laying eyes on her is “Damn! She ugly.” Your girlfriend probably already knows people think her mother is on the not-easy-on-the-eyes spectrum, but if she asks you to be honest about what you think of her mother, a stupid-dumb-fool doesn’t even begin to describe you if you say “She ugly.”
Saying, “Your mother is an amazing-amazing cook” or “She reminds me of my late mother. I miss her so much” won’t be 100% honest but you aren’t lying either if her mother is truly an amazing cook or reminds you of your own mother.
Point. Knowing the time and place to be completely honest about sensitive issues, topics and feelings is the ultimate measure of emotional intelligence.
Honesty is a virtue, and in relationships, honesty is what makes a relationship authentic. Without honesty, your ‘relationship’ is one big pretend. But… but remember, just because you can say something doesn’t always mean you should. There is a time and place to speak your truth and a time and place to keep your mouth shut.
Be emotionally intelligent!