Telling It Like It Is

Q. How do I tell my wife that she needs to lose a few pounds?

A. Whoa there, big guy, don’t say a word to your wife about her weight. “You’ve got to make it about you” says Gerard Musante, a clinical psychologist and founder of Structure House, a behavioral weight loss clinic in North Carolina., Tell her you’re concerned about your weight, and that you’d like to enlist her help in shedding your extra pounds. They buy two gym memberships and ask her to accompany you two or three times a week (If she needs extra incentive, buy her a few sessions with a buff fitness trainer.)”(Best’s Life, page 21, November, 2006)

Q. My wife hates my best friends’ wife. Is our friendship doomed?

A. Your friendship isn’t doomed at all – as long as you follow the one essential rule for marital bliss: Agree with your wife. “Rather than trying to defend this other woman, which we guys tend to do out of integrity, agree with her concerns” says Scott Haltzman, M.D., author of Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife’s Heart Forever. “What a lot of men don’t understand is that women want support for the sake of being supported – so give it to her, regardless of how her complaints register on your truth meter.”(Best’s Life, page 19, November, 2006)

Thanks to the kind of advice given above, we’ve almost forgotten what it means to be honest. American culture, and language, is swamped in the machinations of politics, political correctness, business PR, advertising, sensitivity training, sexual harassment avoidance, and myriad other corruptions; we barely know what honesty means.

First of all, real honesty has little to do with routine courtesy. We don’t ask “How are you?” to really hear how someone is doing, but as an acknowledgement and greeting. To tell a well-meaning friend that the book they just gave you for your birthday is one that looks boring, and you have no intention of ever reading, is rude, not honest. In any social situation, you can usually find something nice, and true, to say: the boring book may have an interesting cover, the art that you don’t like may still have lovely colors, your friend’s ostentatious new car does indeed “look impressive”. With small things, it’s pretty easy to find something positive, and socially appropriate, to say.

With more weighty matters, the key is just the opposite; honesty means not skirting the issue, but saying what you believe to be the truth. If a customer asks for your opinion of a product, you should give your frank opinion, although you will be forgiven for emphasizing the positive. For instance, let’s say that you are a real estate agent, asked your opinion of the lousy school system in which your listing is located. Its perfectly okay to say something along the lines of “Academically, its not the best in the area, but it has great sports teams and the kids seem to have fun”; assuming in fact, that the latter two attributes are actually true. You can acknowledge the negative while emphasizing the positive. But if you know the school system to be lousy, and you say its not, you’re simply lying.

In a business situation, candor can take the form of being frank without being nasty. When asked your opinion of an ad campaign, you might say, “Well, I liked the graphics, but, overall, it wasn’t really what I was looking for.” A service provider cannot deliver what you want if they don’t get honest feedback. You may be surprised at how well people take criticism, if it is delivered in a constructive, positive way. Contrary to myth and TV shows, business people, even rich and powerful business people, are often very hesitant to offend, and a tremendous amount of time is wasted on trying to determine what the customer or client really wants – often because they don’t know themselves.

Numbers are simple; if you know the actual number, you should use that number. In the book publishing business, for example, it’s common for publishers to exaggerate sales – except when it comes time to pay royalties. Honesty means that the same set of numbers are given on each side of a transaction, without puffery. A house that sold for $910,000 did not sell for “almost a million”; it sold for $910,000. A publisher who sold 15,000 copies of a book and gave away 5,000 promotional copies did not sell “over 20,000” copies. Numbers call for precision.

Politicians have a special form of evasion; they simply answer the question they wished they had been asked rather than the question they have been asked. When the reporter asks the senator how the two 17 year old lingerie models came to be on his payroll as public finance experts, he responds that “yes indeed, he was born in a log cabin, and, yes, its true that he has served this great nation for many, many years and will continue to serve the great people who sent him to Washington.”

As a private citizen, you may not have any obligation to answer questions that someone has no right to ask. In such situations, you might simply ignore the question, or might respond that “that’s really none of your business.” But don’t evade the question – look straight into questioning eyes, and give them the facts. “Yes, I’m 64, and she was 21, but she was just so damn beautiful, and my wife really didn’t care” might go a lot further than the usual string of lies and evasion. At the very least, telling the truth can be such a refreshing change as to cover a multitude of sins, and often has it’s own amusement value.

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