Ask anyone, “Should people be honest?” and of course their answer will be yes. It has to be! Saying no is to endorse dishonesty, which is like coming out against literacy or childhood nutrition—it sounds like a moral transgression. But the fact is, there are often good reasons not to be honest. When it comes to interacting with other people in a work environment, there are times when we choose not to say what we really think. This creates a dilemma.
On one level, the only way to get a grip on the facts, issues, and nuances we need to solve problems and collaborate effectively is by communicating fully and openly, by not withholding or misleading. There is no doubt that our decision-making is better if we are able to draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group. But as valuable as the information is that comes from honesty and as loudly as we proclaim its importance, our own fears and instincts for self-preservation often cause us to hold back. To address this reality, we need to free ourselves of honesty’s baggage. One way to do that is to replace the word honesty with another word that has a similar meaning but fewer moral connotations: candor. Candor is forthrightness or frankness—not so different from honesty, really. And yet, in common usage, the word communicates not just truth-telling but a lack of reserve. Everyone knows that sometimes, being reserved is healthy, even necessary for survival. Nobody thinks that being less than candid makes you a bad person (while no one wants to be called dishonest). People have an easier time talking about their level of candor because they don’t think they will be punished for admitting that they sometimes hold their tongues. This is essential. You cannot address the obstacles to candor until people feel free to say that they exist (and using the word honesty only makes it harder to talk about those barriers).