By Roy Snell
I just met someone who was delightfully honest. It triggered an idea for this post. Her name is Beverly Kracher, and she runs the Ethical Business Alliance in Omaha Nebraska. Sometimes I get an idea in my head about something and it haunts me. I can’t explain it, but it seems important and cries out to be explored. Then I meet someone or find myself in a particular situation that causes me to sit up in my chair and say, “Yes, yes… right there. That’s what I am talking about.” Then I describe exactly what I saw in a way that I hope helps further the conversation about an important topic. This happened after a few email exchanges with Beverly. It was pretty funny actually. After the first email, I tilted my head to the side like one of those funny dog videos, but I had no idea why. Then one more email came, and then another, and then I got it. She was delightfully honest. There are many of these people in the compliance profession. The compliance profession attracts delightfully honest people and nurtures their delightful honesty skills.
I have met people who were honest, but something seemed to be missing. Some honest people seemed more honest than other honest people, and I don’t mean in the obvious way. I don’t mean that one doesn’t always tell the truth. The question was for me was, “Why am I impressed by or interested in some honest people more than others?” It’s as if there are “sub traits” of honesty. Food is a necessity; it keeps you alive. But if you mix a few other things with food, like spice, food can be better. If you mix a few other traits with honesty, can it be better?
I know plenty of people who are honest, but very guarded. They really don’t share everything they think about a subject. It’s not inappropriate. They are still honest, but something is missing. I really like to get to a deeper truth, and openness is a way to get to a deeper truth. Open people are more interestingly honest. I try to be open first, which sometimes gives people the willingness or comfort to be open themselves.
Delightfully honest people take risks and don’t freak out if they say something that turns out to be correctly rebutted by someone else. They explore uncharted territory. Delightfully honest people encourage others by artfully correcting them when they are wrong, or just letting it go for the time being. You can help people take risks in describing their truth by being easier on them.
I once asked my father what he thought about my boss and he said, “He has his feelers out. He is constantly looking for information about how you feel about something and what you think.” When this guy talked, he talked about everything related to what we were being honest about, because he was in the moment. He wasn’t just concerned about his truth, and he kept the conversation on the truth relevant to both parties.
Common sense, it seems to me, helps you go places in an honest conversation that are much deeper or more interesting. There are many different areas of common sense – social, political, business, management, family, skilled trades, etc. I would encourage you to steer conversations with people to their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
Keeping the Conversation on Track
People who are delightfully honest pay attention to where you want the conversation to go. They consciously try to figure out and remember the overarching topic you are exploring, and keep the conversation on track. If you wander off the subject you originally brought up, they bring you back to the topic you were interested in. They might say, “Tell me more about what you said a minute ago. What did you mean by that?”
Knowledge and Self Awareness
If you don’t pull back when being honest about a subject that you are not very knowledgeable about, your honesty can be flawed. I am impressed by people who know their limits on a particular subject or acknowledge when they are rendering an opinion.
People who are effective leaders help people discover the truth, rather than just hitting them over the head with it. I get pretty wound up and too direct in some discussions, and it rarely helps. You will be more effective if you take your time and ask questions that help people put two and two together properly.
I had lunch yesterday with someone who was delightfully honest. He was talking about a subject that I really didn’t understand or necessarily agree with. Rather than disagree, I tried to encourage him to explore his truth more, rather than derailing his journey about his truth with mine.
Sometimes people are honest, but pull three facts out of 25 relevant facts to make a point. If you don’t acknowledge all the available facts when making a point, you are technically being honest about the three facts, but not being honest about the overall picture. This plagues our society at the moment. Really honest people will state all the pros and cons and then make their point known.
People who want to have honest conversations put aside their bias for a while. Bias can lead to aggression, which can build up resistance to open conversation. People who can put their bias aside for a while can have more truthful and honest conversations.
People who are delightfully honest have little-to-no defensiveness in a conversation. Smart people who are interested in deeply exploring the truth consciously try not to say things that may make people feel as though they need to defend themselves.
Honesty can be more interesting if the person you are talking to is curious. I enjoy conversations with people who ask a lot of questions. They want to learn. Ask questions, particularly if you are lost or feeling a little defensive.
Questions vs. Defensiveness
On way too many occasions, I go off on someone because I disagree, only to find out that I misunderstood what they said. It’s pretty embarrassing. I try to turn my frustration into questions as opposed to an immediate response.
Delightfully honest people have truths they want to share, but have the discipline to wait until you are finished speaking your truth before jumping in with theirs. I struggle with this. I often will write down a word to remind me what I wanted to talk about next, rather than interrupt them. It frees my mind to listen instead of concentrating on remembering what I wanted to say next.
Delightfully honest people trust what people are saying, unless they have solid evidence that what they are saying is wrong.
It used to be that it was PC not to call people very disparaging names or engage in a few other select serious indiscretions. Now it’s PC not to share an opinion that someone else disagrees with. Out-of-control political correctness might be one of the biggest roadblocks to honest conversation our culture has ever experienced.
As I get closer to retirement, I find myself becoming more honest or open about my views. When I needed someone else’s money, I was more careful about sharing my perspective. I also wanted acceptance, so I was more careful with my words. It is much easier to be completely honest if you don’t need stuff from other people. Letting go of what you might need or might get from someone helps.
Uncompetitive Truth Seeking
People who like to have an honest conversation will not be competitive. Some people say things that come off as competitive and, like plaque building up in a hardening artery, it can block honest conversation. Those who are not out to “win” a conversation allow the individual they are talking with to comfortably explore their truth.
Confident people don’t care if you are right or they are right. They just describe things the way they see them and listen to your perspective. Try to help people feel more confident, and you might get more interesting information from them.
Two delightfully honest people can advance the truth. One person says something that is true and interesting, and that triggers a related and interesting truth known by the second party. Then, for a moment or two, both people have these two truths rolling around in their minds. Occasionally, one of the two people will say, “If both those things are true, then the following must be true.” They never would have come to that unknown truth if they had not been having a deep, open, and uncompetitive conversation.
Some people use honesty as an excuse for their bad behavior. Some people get in other people’s faces a lot. They criticize and complain often. Their excuse for their bad behavior is that they are just being honest, when actually they are just being rude. When I write about things like this, they thank me for writing an article that supports them. I am not interested in supporting nagging, complaining, being critical, being mean, or other bad behavior under the guise of being honest.
There is more to honesty than just telling the truth. (That sentence really looks strange when I reread it, but I am going to stick with it.) Technically, you can be telling the truth but leaving some truth out. Not being in the moment can cause you to miss what the other person really is saying or thinking. Bias, a lack of knowledge, and limited common sense all play a role in an honest conversation.
When I find a person with all of this in alignment, it’s a rush for me. There is some joy to finding someone who can do this well.