Using honesty to escape competition

“Honesty is actually a blunt instrument, which bloodies more than it cuts. Your honesty is likely to offend people; it is much more prudent to tailor your words, telling people what they want to hear rather than the coarse and ugly truth of what you feel or think.” - Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

It’s funny how as children, our parents insist us to always be honest, but grown ups are completely incapable of dealing with absolute honesty. Don’t believe me? Try being honest when you partner asks if they are looking fat in an outfit and see how it goes.

As much as we say that “feedback is a gift” and that “we are always looking to improve”, we like people’s honesty mostly when they are praising us. It is nowhere more evident than at work, where people are constantly trying to be in their managers’ good books. You can’t blame them though. When was the last time you saw someone get promoted because they shared their honest opinions all the time? More often than not, such reports are quickly “managed out” of the organization.

I think that honesty, when used with tact, can allow you stand out and be very successful in your career.

As companies get bigger, senior leadership has a hard time keeping their ears to the ground. Good leaders know that having an accurate read of what’s working and what isn’t is essential to be able to do their jobs well. They also know that they are surrounded by yes-men/women who don’t want to risk saying anything controversial and upset their boss.

The best leaders seek out and stay in touch with people who can give them their honest opinions. They do this with people regardless of their titles or seniority in the company.

Here’s how you can end up being one of those people:

  1. Form a well-rounded opinion first - When you see something you don’t understand, assume positive intent. Lots of people tend to form strong negative opinions without having the full context.

  2. Be honest, without being overly negative - Being honest doesn’t mean you whine about issues all the time. No one likes such people and if you only complain about things, others will simply ignore you.

  3. It’s OK to not have an opinion - When asked for their opinion, people feel compelled to say things just for the sake of doing so. If you don’t have a well-formed opinion yet, say that. They will respect you for it. You can also offer to think about and get back to them.

  4. Be open to changing your mind - Everyone is wrong a lot of the time. It’s OK to admit that you were wrong when provided with facts that you weren’t aware of. Don’t pick a side and stick to it because of your ego. That’s childish.

If you do this well, you’ll stand out in a crowd full of people desperately trying to suck up to their bosses. Leaders will seek you out for advice because their respect your opinion, and give you lots of growth opportunities.