top of page

Is Being Honest Worth it? How to Improve the Outcome of Addressing a Concern

It’s happening again!

You are in a meeting providing your insights when you are interrupted by someone who cannot wait for you to finish your sentence. You brushed it off the first time or two. But now, it is taking a toll on your nerves, as it is routine for this individual. You are at the point where you are contemplating whether to be honest about their persistent compulsion to interject or continue to bear the burden.

Even if you do not resonate with this situation, I think we all have been in a position where we weighed out the pros and cons of being honest with someone about their behavior, decisions, or ethics.

I don’t think any of us would disagree that honesty, along with vulnerability, compassion, and courage, are admirable. These traits are also challenging to embody consistently, even for the most honest and admirable individuals. Our brains are wired to avoid taking risks, and honesty is almost entirely a risk because we have zero control over the other person’s reaction. The best we can do is mitigate the risks by delivering the message with careful thought and heart.

We may think, “Next time, I will speak up and address the situation.” This is not to say we can’t do it or won’t do it, but we also must be honest with ourselves.

Many things sound good in theory. However, follow-through is much more challenging when our stress response kicks in. Stress tends to cause us to freeze up, retreat, or react without reason, regardless of how we envisioned the situation unfolding. We can be left feeling humiliated, irritated, helpless, and filled with guilt, depending on how we reacted or failed to respond.

Is It Worth It to Be Honest with People?

Unfortunately, I cannot answer that for you. The worth will depend on whether you are willing to face the unknown consequences of being honest and whether you feel honesty is the moral thing to do regardless of the consequences.

Before we move on, I want to clarify the context I am referring to being honest. I am referring to disclosing information that we want to convey but fear conveying. This is not related to intentionally hiding information or lying.

For many of us, our decision to speak up will be influenced by how it will ultimately affect us personally and how grounded we are in our values.

Too often, we can dismiss comments or behaviors that have a negative impact on our well-being to " keep the peace.” But who are we keeping the peace for? If being silent leads to anxiety, frustration, and pain, we are not doing it for ourselves. Additionally, if we are not grounded in our values, we may dismiss the wrongdoings of others to protect ourselves while others will be negatively impacted.

While I cannot answer your question directly, I can offer you are questions that will help you better understand why you may be resistant to speaking up, and strategies that will help improve your chances of a positive outcome.

Question to ask yourself:

  • How annoying or problematic is what you wish to address on a scale of 1-5? If it is over 3, the issue is likely to have a negative impact on your well-being.

  • What harm, if any, is coming from not addressing the issue or behavior?

  • If it makes you feel disrespected or causes harm or damage of any kind, do you not think that is something worth addressing?

  • What thoughts or fears come to mind when you think about addressing it?

  • Where do these thoughts and fears stem from? What past experiences or self-held beliefs may be influencing these thoughts or fears?

  • What are the consequences of not speaking up and being honest?

  • Is that something you are willing to accept? Here is where you must confront your self-worth. One of the most common fears of not speaking up is the fear of rejection. However, if this person is disrespecting us and becomes upset if we confront them, is that someone we want in our lives? What does that say about the respect we have for ourselves? If your fear is losing your job, do you lack confidence in yourself to find a new job?

If you genuinely take the time to answer these questions, you will know the answer to the question, “Is being honest worth it?”

Whatever answer you come up with is also the answer to these questions:

Do I respect and value myself?

Do I stand behind my moral values?

However, this rule doesn’t apply if you find that your answer is no because the annoyance or issue wasn’t as big as you once thought (it rated low on the scale from question one).

Strategies for Increasing Your Chances of A Positive Outcome:

Know the person:

Truly knowing someone is near impossible. However, we can gain clues through their consistent behaviors, tone, and body language. If you have worked or known someone long enough, you likely are familiar with their triggers. When being honest and addressing a touchy subject, you want to avoid their triggers to ensure a positive outcome.

Timing is everything:

There is a time and place for everything. If someone is in a bad mood, on the defensive, having a bad day, or preoccupied, it is not the right time to add to an already turbulent atmosphere. Wait until they are in a neutral state and ask if you can schedule some time to speak with them privately. This may make some people nervous, and they may want to address it then and there. Be prepared for this, and do not ask to speak with them unless you are ready yourself.

Be respectful:

If someone has disrespected you, you may believe they are undeserving of your respect. This attitude will almost certainly lead to a problematic outcome. Remember that the display of disrespect for another is often the lack of security and respect one has for themselves. Try not to take it personally and instead see them as someone who needs to be heard and understood just as much as you do. You will be surprised at how this increases the likelihood of a positive outcome.

Allow them to save face:

While it may feel good to be right and call people out on their wrongdoings or lies, it tends to have the opposite effect as we would hope. Maybe you remember being called out and how it made you feel and your reaction. We may have denied the facts, even when there are as clear as day. This is an effort to save face. When someone does something wrong, they don’t need anyone to point it out. It is those that allow others to save face by saying something along the lines of, “I know you would never do this intentionally.” or “You must have a lot going on because I know that isn’t like you to___.”

While what they did may have been intentional and, in their nature, by giving them the benefit of the doubt, they are more likely to listen to what you have to say, apologize, and be mindful not to do it again.

Make it about them, not you:

Depending on what you need to address, making it about them may be a good option. This is not the case if you are handling a matter of disrespect or unacceptable behavior.

An example of when to use this strategy might be if you want to address the failure to communicate effectively—maybe their emails or text are vague and short. You may say, “I know how busy you are, so I’m sure you try to be efficient as possible with your time. I would hate to eat into that time more by having to reach out for follow-up questions. If you added these additional details, I could spare you the time of reaching back out since you are so busy.”

This makes them feel you are looking out for their needs, and they will be likely to oblige your request. This will create a win-win solution and allows them to save face.

Keep strong emotions out of it:

No matter what words come out of your mouth, if you feel emotions like resentment, frustration, or anger, it will show through, and the message will not be sincere. Additionally, strong emotions can lead you to say something you may regret. Ensure you are in a good state of mind before approaching someone.

Feeling nervous is an acceptable emotion. Conveying that you are nervous will help to alleviate that feeling as well. It may seem weak to admit that you are nervous, but if you are, it will show through your body language even if you don’t verbally say it. Addressing it will reduce awkwardness or tension.

Practice what you are going to say:

Going into a conversation without preparation is a bad idea. Our nerves will often get in the way, and we fail to say what we need to. If you rehearse what you are going to say multiple times, the chances are much more significant for follow-through and smooth delivery.

Give them time:

If people are quiet after you address them. Do not pressure them for a response. Let it sink in. You may say, “I will give you some time.” Additionally, people may initially react with intense emotions. Instead of engaging them, stay calm and say, “I need to step away,” or “I feel we should take some time.” Let them come to you. This will often end with them apologizing for their rash behavior.

Know that it is no longer in your hands:

As mentioned early on, while we can mitigate risks, we will never be a to know the outcome of being honest because it is not up to us but the other person. If you do all the above, find solace in knowing that YOU did all you could.

The next step may be ending a relationship, changing jobs, or distancing yourself from this individual. “Fixing” them is not your responsibility.


bottom of page