Honesty is the Best Policy? Not Always, Here are 11 Reasons Why

crossed fingers

Sometimes being honest is bad; that isn’t to say that lying is good, but instead, sometimes telling the truth isn’t the best policy.

For the most part, honest is an acceptable strategy, but there are times when honesty is terrible and will result in more harm than good. This is especially true when there is the risk of hurting someone’s feelings or getting yourself into trouble.

People say, ‘honesty is the best policy,’ but that isn’t always true; oftentimes, honesty is bad and leads to more harm than telling the truth.

If you’ve ever wondered how honesty was bad, check out this list of reasons and see if they match up with your assumptions.

1) People Don’t Want The Truth

The simple fact is that people seldomly want the truth; often, a believable lie suits them better and is what they are looking for. This isn’t to say we should lie all the time and avoid the truth, but it does mean we need to be sure we understand what people are looking for when they ask us a question.

My wife is a fantastic chef as we always eat great meals when she is cooking, and I know the rest of my family is usually jealous of what she makes. But sometimes, a recipe doesn’t work out, and the food isn’t as tasty as we are used to. In those cases, it is always better to say the meal was good or alright, and then make some suggestions about what could have been improved.

No one wants to hear that their work sucked, so constructive criticism is always better.

Sometimes honesty is bad because that isn’t what people want; instead, they may be ok with constructive feedback or nothing at all. The best you can do is try to judge the situation, figure out what people are looking for and give the best answer, even if it isn’t the honest truth.

2) Telling the Truth at Work Can Get You Fired

Over the years, I have had some horrible jobs that I didn’t like and didn’t want to keep, but I needed the money, so it was invariably better to say nothing at all when asked how I felt. The thing about work is that we often need our jobs and don’t have many choices until we can find something else. When this happens, the best we can do is keep the peace and not say anything that will get us in trouble

There are elements of my job that I love, and I can honestly say it is the best job I have ever had as far as the best work-life balance is concerned. But at the same time, if I didn’t need to work, I wouldn’t still be there. I’m sure most people feel the same way about work, so my experience isn’t unique.

You can’t tell your boss that you hate your job or think they are doing a lousy job because that will could get fired.

Being honest is bad when your honesty can get you fired. You wouldn’t tell the person who is signing your paycheck that they suck or should get lost cause that isn’t going to work out well for you.

3) Your Privacy is Yours to Keep

Your life is yours, and so is your privacy; in most cases, somebody doesn’t have a right to your private personal details. Things that are going on in your personal life aren’t the business of anyone else business, so if you don’t want to talk about it, you don’t have to. On top of this, you have some privacy rights that ensure that you don’t have to answer certain types of questions.

In many of these cases, it is seemingly best to say nothing about your private details, but you might need to lie if that doesn’t work.

The best example of this kind of situation is when you have a job interview with a different company, as it is not likely that you can admit you have a job interview somewhere else. At the same time, you always need to give an excuse as to why you can’t come into work, so a lie is the only option.

Sometimes being honest isn’t possible, so you have to tell a white lie to do what you need to do. I’m not suggesting that you lie all the time or claim everything is private, but sometimes honesty doesn’t work because it violates your privacy.

4) We Lie to Save Others Feelings

One of the most apparent reasons why honesty can be bad is that we don’t want to hurt someone that we care about’s feelings. I mentioned before that if my wife’s cooking isn’t great, she wouldn’t want to hear that; instead, constructive criticism is the best approach. But other things like this happen all the time, as there are many sorts of situations where we won’t tell the people around us what we think cause we don’t want to hurt them.

Before creating this website, I wrote a book on living a meaningful life; it is called How to Be Amazing! A ManifestoOpens in a new tab. and can be purchased online at that link. However, before I tried to market it, I asked some of my friends to read it; one of them later told me that he liked the book and was glad that he didn’t have to lie about it because I am his friend.

But herein rests the problem, he didn’t want to hurt my feelings, so he was worried about telling the truth. The question becomes, was he telling the truth?

Sometimes being honest is bad because it can hurt our friend’s and families’ feelings. Yet, at the same time, if we aren’t genuine, we prevent ourselves from giving our friends the honest feedback they may require.

5) Honesty Doesn’t Help When Nothing Can Be Changed

At my first job out of college, I worked for a startup, and that was a spectacular failure, but it was a significant learning experience. In particular, while there, I learnt that being honest was bad when nothing could be done with the truth. I say this because the company eventually failed, but before that, I got in trouble after telling the CEO that the codebase was problematic. That said, I was just out of school, what did I know about good code?

Sometimes it was too late to turn things around and build something else.

Honesty couldn’t work here because by the time I made this comment, tons of money had already been invested. The company had to release the product, and hearing about the code problems wouldn’t make any difference and couldn’t help anyone.

I’m sure with most large projects, this is almost always the case, as at a certain point, there is nothing that can be done, so feedback is virtually worthless.

Being honest is bad when it is too late to make a difference, as there is no benefit to anyone knowing the truth.

6) Honesty Isn’t Always Great With Strangers

On the internet, it is easy to be cruel to people we don’t know; that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be nice, just that it is easier when we don’t have to face someone. That said, when we are talking to someone in person who we don’t know, it is almost always easier not to tell the truth or hold back information.

Long ago, my neighbours were out of town for the winter, and they asked me to take care of their cat. Every day I’d spend an hour there cleaning up, feeding and playing with the cat. One day the phone rang, and for some reason, I decided to pick it up.

On the other end, the person said they were conducting a survey and started to ask a whole bunch of personal questions. Because I wasn’t at home, I felt free to honestly answer the questions, but I know, if I answered my own phone, I wouldn’t have been that honest.

Being honest is not good when there can be some risk of telling the truth.

The thing about strangers is that we never know what they are capable of or what they could do with the information we give them. For this reason, telling the truth isn’t the best policy when talking to strangers.

7) People With Power Over Us Don’t Want the Truth

Power dynamics always come into relationships and personal interactions; as I mentioned above, you have to be careful with the truth at work because you could get fired. But that example represents other sorts of situations where the truth might not work.

When I was a kid, I remember there were lots of times where I couldn’t tell my parents what I was up to cause I would get in trouble. But at the same time, our parents don’t always want to know the truth; if we were drinking with our friends, they might rather hear that we are studying for an exam.

Sometimes when people have power over us, they don’t want to know the truth cause they don’t want to be wrong, and that might be worse for them too.

Being honest doesn’t always work cause there are times when we need to lie to avoid conflict and unnecessary consequences.

8) Confidence Over Truth Pays

If you are a technical person, you might have sat in on meetings and conversations with non-technical people, often; in these meetings, the people talking don’t accurately represent the issues or the situation. As an outsider, you can see this, and it is frustrating. But when it comes to the interests of the companies, it makes a lot of sense to be confident because that is how you close contracts.

There are always people who sound very confident about what they say or how they say it at the workplace. But at the same time, anyone who understands the situation realizes that the confident person isn’t always telling the truth, yet their sometimes unearned confidence tends to pay off.

Being hardworking and aware sometimes leads to a lack of confidence because when you know what you don’t know, it’s much harder to be confident. However, on the other side of this, people who don’t know what they don’t know have more courage, and that confidence can pay off.

Being honest isn’t always beneficial, as confidence often pays better than truth.

People who can act confidently despite the reality of the situation will still gain the trust of the people around them. When this comes to responsibility, you can gain more if you are willing to bend the truth, though there is always the risk that someday you could get caught.

9) Telling a Nice Story Helps When the Truth Hurts

Everyone knows that sometimes we need to tell white lies rather than hard facts; this isn’t so much because it will make a difference, as often we use half-truths where nothing can be changed. The thing about telling a nice story or a less painful lie is that it helps the people we care about.

One of the biggest mistakes I made in my life happened while I was on the other side of the planet and my girlfriend at the time was back home. By the time it came time to talk about what had happened, it was too late to change the facts, but it might have worked out better for everyone if I told a pleasant story rather than a horrible truth.

At the time, I remember one of my friends said, “you shouldn’t have told her you cheated; you could have just broken up with her and left it at that.” By no means am I suggesting this is the right approach, but it might have had a better outcome?

Sometimes being honest is bad because it can only hurt people’s feelings, and nothing good will ever come out of it.

Sometimes telling a slightly dishonest story rather than the cold hard facts will leave everyone feeling better but still have a similar outcome.

10) You Can’t Tell the Truth When You Move On

Often when we make a significant change in our lives, that ends one thing and starts something else. But at the same time, we have to be careful with the thing we are ending cause we need it to have a positive outcome. We call this burning bridges because we need to cross bridges to move forward, but if we speak poorly of them, we can’t use them in the future.

I talked a little about a company that I worked at before and how it didn’t work out well for me when I told them about problems. For that reason, I learnt a lesson and was always more curious about what I said at later jobs. Sometimes when we leave a job, we found a better one, but other times we leave because the company sucks.

We can’t always be honest about work because we need them as a reference for the future.

Being honest is bad when it comes to the end of a relationship cause you don’t want to burn bridges or make enemies. We often keep silent about problems, and those problems end up making us cease the relationship. The funny thing is, if people could be more honest, maybe the sorts of issues that lead them to quit could be resolved.

11) People Want Us to Listen Not Give Advice

Often, when we are going through a troubling time or having problems in our lives, we seek friend’s or family’s advice. But at the same time, people often only want to complain, they might already know the mistakes they are making, but they aren’t looking to fix them. Instead, they want to vent, feel better and go back to what they were doing before.

If you are a good listener, you will notice this, and maybe that is why your friends come to you, cause they know you will listen and not judge. But regardless, people aren’t often looking for advice; they usually want someone to listen to their problems without judgment. In addition to this, often, the ideas we have in our heads need to get out; so even if we don’t want to solve them, we do want to talk about them.

Sometimes being honest is bad because people don’t want the truth; they want someone to listen to them while they get out their thoughts.

And this makes sense as feeling better doesn’t always require change; it often only requires venting.

While I’ve presented 11 examples of times where telling the truth might not be the best idea, I don’t believe that we should be dishonest most of the time. Instead, we should be dishonest when the outcome of telling the truth will be worse than not telling the truth. Of course, this is very subjective and open to debate.

Being honest is bad when the truth will hurt people for no reason. Being honest is also dangerous when more negative than positive will come out of telling the truth. So in the end, don’t blame me for saying it’s alright to lie; instead, evaluate your situations and decide for yourself using this list as a guideline.

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Robert Carr

Over the years, I've learnt to see things in a different light. This website is my place to share those insights and give my unique perspective on living a meaningful life.

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