Despite the best intentions, beginning your sentence with those three little words can defeat your purpose.
Do you ever find yourself beginning a sentence with some form of the phrase: “To be honest...“? Or “To tell you the truth…”?
To be honest, what’s the problem?
Why is this phrase potentially problematic? It automatically creates perception problems. The unspoken implication is that being honest or “perfectly honest” is a such a rare occasion that you need to preface your rare moments of truth. Assuming that you want to avoid any implication that you are a conditionally honest person, I implore you to STOP using this phrase. Perceptions of your personal integrity are critical to building trust. This little language lapse can put your reputation in question and hinder your ability to lead. It’s likely that those who hear your declaration of honesty are sub-consciously questioning your integrity. It is true that many people naively use these phrases. But why take that chance of potentially diminishing your integrity?
Because I’m aware of these implications, I cringe when ever I hear that preface. Former football announcer Pat Haden, who is literally a Rhodes Scholar, would use this phrase repeatedly throughout his broadcasts. Every time I heard it, I wanted to dig him a hole for him to crawl into.
The Whole Truth
From our experience with witness’ oaths, we’ve heard there is “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth“. Theoretically, it’s not a multiple choice deal when you’re under oath. You’ve pledged to provide all three. Although sometimes litigators seem to really be seeking their own limited version of truth when they prevent witnesses from elaborating on their answers.
In every day life, we’re not under oath. And “discretion is the better part of valor”. So sometimes the “whole truth” should not be told. Full disclosure needs to be situational. If you don’t believe me, consider a lifetime of being perfectly honesty with this question: “Does this dress make me look fat?” The defense rests! You don’t need to be in court to invoke some form of 5th Amendment rights.
I’m simply suggesting that there is better way to frame your “whole truth” moments to avoid sounding like you might be a habitual liar.
Truth vs. Candor
The real issue here is problematic language. The misused word in the preface “To be honest with you” is “honest”. To avoid integrity perception problems, I advise that you replace “honest” with some form of the words “candor” (like candid) or “frank“. Simply stop saying “To be honest” and start saying “To be really candid“.
The aforementioned Pat Haden has found a new place to be conditionally honest. He’s left the TV broadcast booth for Notre Dame football to become the new Athletic Director at his Alma Mater, scandal plagued University of Southern California. To be candid, I wonder why he would want that job?