Have you ever told a half-truth to avoid an awkward situation, or to keep the peace in your relationship, family or workplace?
Most people value the moral principle of honesty — while having trouble with honesty with others in their daily lives.
New research from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in Illinois explored the consequences of honesty in everyday life, and the results are compelling: Researchers found that people often can afford to be more honest than they think.
In the paper, “You Can Handle the Truth: Mispredicting the Consequences of Honest Communication,” Booth School assistant professor Emma Levine, who studies the psychology of altruism, trust, and ethical dilemmas, along with Taya Cohen, an associate professor who studies organizational theory at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, found that people significantly overestimate the costs of honest conversations.
“We’re often reluctant to have completely honest conversations with others,” said Levine, according to Science Daily. “We think offering critical feedback or opening up about our secrets will be uncomfortable for both us and the people with whom we are talking.”
For the purposes of the study, the researchers defined honesty as “speaking in accordance with one’s own beliefs, thoughts and feelings.”
In a series of experiments, they predicted the consequences of honesty in everyday life.
The researchers concluded that such fears are often misguided, and that truthful conversations are far more enjoyable for communicators than they expect them to be — and that the listener in an honest conversation indeed reacts less negatively than the speaker expects.
In one field experiment, participants were told to be completely honest with everyone in their lives for three days. In a lab experiment, participants had to be honest with a close “relational partner” while answering personal and potentially difficult discussion questions. A third experiment instructed participants to share honest negative feedback with a close relational partner.
Across all three experiments, individuals expected honesty to be less pleasant and less socially connecting than it actually was.
“Taken together, these findings suggest that individuals’ avoidance of honesty may be a mistake,” the researchers noted. “By avoiding honesty, individuals miss out on opportunities that they appreciate in the long run, and that they would want to repeat.”
And what about honesty in business?
It’s important on the job, too.
“Leaders with integrity may not be the most famous or flashy of leaders, and they don’t care,” notes Entrepreneur. “Integrity means doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. And that’s what makes success.”
“Leaders keep their promises … And they always tell the truth,” the article continues.
“Jack Welch [the retired business executive and CEO of General Electric] calls it ‘candor.’ He believes that if you are afraid of candor, then you don’t have the guts to be an effective leader,” the article notes.
“You are going to surround yourself with ‘yes’ people who will say what you want to hear instead of saying the truth.”
See a rabbi talk about whether honesty is the best policy in the video below.