Honest or not honest, that IS the question!

My father used to tell me that I wear my heart on my sleeve. People know where they are with me and I always thought that was a good thing. Today I am starting to doubt this…


I am reading “Lila” by Robert Pirsig and he talks about the way the American Indian plains-people tend to speak from the heart, with no attempt to hide or wrap things up in clever or manipulative language. As a fan of assertive communication, I think this is brilliant: Just try to say exactly what you really feel and really mean. But Pirsig also adds that American Indian people choose well the moment to speak honestly… and I think this may be a weakness for me.


Example: My mother asked my years ago “How was dinner?” I replied “I enjoyed it thanks. I found the chicken a little dry, but with the sauce it was great”.


This was clearly a fault – I lacked some emotional intelligence – I needed to learn when to keep my mouth shut, not to criticise to quickly.


Today I am much better with such “affairs of the heart” (ask my wife!) …but when it comes to business I still seem to be constantly open and honest, even when I might lose out in the long run. Its not that I tend to criticise (like with my mother) but I always share what I am thinking, even when it might be in my own best interest to keep my mouth shut…


Example 1: Being the nice guy, I might make a price proposal, see that it is higher than expected and then immediately say “But I’m open to suggestions”

Example 2: I share constantly my ideas with people on how they could do their business better, even if they are in the same business as me.

Example 3: I try to make everyone happy first, rather than trying to win for myself first.

Example 4: I explain by email to a client WHY I did something differently than planned, thus opening the door for disagreement where my actions may have simply been accepted “as-is”.


In training on negotiation and collaboration, I help people understand how their attitude to working with other people has an impact on their relationships and results. We learn about the difference between a “blue attitude” and a “red attitude”:

When I was a younger trainer, I used to tell people that it was best to play WIN:WIN (blue). Now I don’t say such things. (First of all, I have a tendancy to get them to figure it out and decide for themselves, secondly ….) I would prefer to say that one needs to have a preference for WIN:WIN, but be aware and open to when it is time to be a little more “red”, notably when others are playing “red”.


And so, I think today that sometimes I should not be so nice, so open, so clear and direct. I can still value these things, but NOT DOING THEM ALL THE TIME is not equivalent to being not-nice, dishonest or indirect. Just discrete or less naive or strategic. (“Purple”, as Gavin Kennedy would say in “The New Negotiating Edge”).

What do you think?


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