Honesty is a facet of moral character that connotes positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, straightforwardness, including straightforwardness of conduct, along with the absence of lying, cheating, theft, etc. Honesty also involves being trustworthy, loyal, fair, and sincere.
Honesty is the best policy. So we are told. But is this true even when the truth hurts?
I was brought up with one rule in our house: you always tell the truth. My parents gave my sister and I a lot of freedom as teenagers, they trusted us to do the right thing, as long as we were honest about where we were, who we were with and what we were doing. I can’t remember ever lying or telling a half-truth to them, whereas a lot of my friends had parents who were much stricter and my friends hid things from them.
I have carried this honesty and trust into my adulthood. I am known for being straight talking and direct, if you ever meet my parents, you will see where I get it from. I know that I can be seen as Marmite as not everyone likes my directness. I believe being candid is important so am comfortable with being respected rather then be liked.
As a teacher I have been line managed in my career by a lot of different leaders. Each had a different style. I have preferred male line managers to female, as they have been straighter talking in my experience. As a leader, I have line managed, mentored and coached a lot of people.
I believe honesty is a gift which helps us to grow. If we are not given clear, honest feedback then we cannot do this. Giving feedback is often easier than receiving it though.
An anecdote – as a DHT I remember line managing an established HOD, her results were not very good, her lessons were weak, she was known as a difficult member of staff. I chaired team meetings and her comments were often inappropriate or combative to her colleagues and to me. I took her to one side one day for a one-to-one. I gave her some honest feedback that people found her abrasive and hard to work with. She cried. But the tears were surprisingly tears of gratitude, she thanked me for my honesty – she had no idea why people avoided her. She said it now made sense.
My learning from this experience was that often we assume that someone else has gifted the honest feedback, but a lot of people tiptoe around the issue rather than addressing it head on.
My honesty has sometimes got me into trouble at times in my career. Not everyone likes to hear the truth, no matter how kind it is. My commitment to the trust also means that I have whistle-blown on things that are not right. Never an easy thing to do.
My final thoughts are that we tell our children to be honest and we tell others this, but how often are we truly honest with ourselves?
360 degree feedback can be a good starting point for this, if the relationships of trust and respect are there for the feedback to be given and received in a supportive way. Through coaching I have spent time really reflecting on who I am, what I believe and what I stand for.
We often know the answer to our questions, but we hide from the truth. We need to be more honest with everyone, but most especially with ourselves.
If you are interested in reading more or doing some training on honest communication and relationships then I recommend:
Kim Scott – Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean
Susan Scott – Fierce Conversations