We’ve all been told that honesty is the best policy…but is it really? This famous maxim fails to take into account everyone’s least-favorite party guest:the person who points out every flaw in your wardrobe, delights in dissing your favorite TV show, and insults your best friend—all under the guise of being “honest.” No one likes that guy.
But just because “honesty” can go too far doesn’t mean it’s not an important ingredient in human connection, along with its sibling character trait, vulnerability. Together, these two similar-but-different traits deepen existing friendships and develop new relationships.
Here’s how to know when to be honest and vulnerable —and when to take a step back.
As a baseline, the maxim’s not wrong: honesty is a good policy. After all, no one likes a liar. Don’t be scared to present yourself honestly to the world. You’re a flawed person who is willing to admit your faults and let people know what to expect up-front. For example, if you’re a perpetually late person —and you know that about yourself — giving friends a head’s-up makes every meeting go smoother.
You should be honest with everyone, most of the time
Honesty encompasses far more than simply being truthful about one’s self. You need to be honest with others, too. If someone is looking for critique, simply saying, “It’s amazing!” even when you spot a glaring flaw, isn’t helpful. They won’t grow, and neither will you.
Honesty can be protective, too. When someone invades your personal space or says something rude, it can be tempting to ignore the imposition. After all, you don’t want to make waves. But protecting yourself is important —and by doing so, you protect other people, too. Perhaps someone is being more touchy-feely than you’d prefer. Telling them to take a long step backward might prevent them from later invading someone else‘s space.
But be wary of being too honest
While it’s important to be honest, honesty isn’t always the best policy. If you’re wielding honesty like a weapon, it’s time to rethink your approach.
For example, let’s take critiquing your friend’s art. There’s nothing major wrong, but you just don’t love the work. Bluntly telling your friend that their art is terrible won’t help anything — honesty is only worthwhile when it’s helpful. The criticism needs to be constructive for your friend to make meaningful use of it.
Is your honesty a disguise for putting other people down? Consider how your “truth-telling” makes them feel. Were you actually mean for no reason? Sometimes, keeping up appearances trumps honesty. On some occasions, keeping your mouth shut maintains everyone’s good mood. The golden rule is always a helpful baseline.
Pay attention: Are you using honesty as a shield?
If you’re worried your honesty trends towards cruelty, consider your own feelings, too. Often we lash out at others because we feel hurt. Telling your mom her outfit doesn’t fit, when really you can’t believe she can pull it off may be a form of projection: seeing in others what you’re too scared to see in yourself. Sometimes, self-hatred manifests as meanness.
When your self-image leads to lashing out at others, it’s time to turn to an in-person or online therapist. A mental health professional can help you work through your emotions and level-up your communication skills.
While “honesty” and “vulnerability” may seem similar, the two concepts are dramatically different. Honesty is about telling the truth; vulnerability is about revealing the truth of your deeper secrets and sharing your scariest thoughts. While it’s important to be honest with everyone, there’s no shame in restricting vulnerability to your closest friends.
Vulnerability can be restricted to your closest friends
Being vulnerable grows friendships and tightens bonds. If you’re lonely and hoping to make new friends, vulnerability can help you make deeper, longer-lasting connections. But not everyone feels comfortable opening up so vividly. If the idea of “sharing” makes your insides shrivel, consider a chat with a licensed therapist. They can help identify the reasons you’re frightened to connect and develop strategies to increase your vulnerability. All in a non-judgemental, objective and unbiased atmosphere from a professional trained to listen sympathetically and provide proactive strategies.
Honesty and vulnerability are two important elements of social connection. Together, they’re the secret sauce for developing friendships and strengthening relationships.