Why honesty really is the best policy

People can handle the truth better than we realise, which means we can afford to be more honest than we think.

You might have fibbed when a friend asked you for an honest opinion on their new dress.

Or maybe you’ve avoided a family dinner and blamed a work deadline when you just couldn’t face it?

From slightly evading the truth to serious falsehoods, most of us tell lies at some point.

Studies suggest we tell between one and six lies a day, or as many as two to three during a 10-minute conversation.

But do we really need to deceive or tell half-truths as often as we do?

We can handle the truth – honestly!

Research from the University of Chicago has found people are better at handling the truth than we give them credit for.

“We’re often reluctant to have completely honest conversations with others. We think offering critical feedback or opening up about our secrets will be uncomfortable for us and the people with whom we are talking,” writes Prof Emma Levine.

In a series of experiments, people were asked to be honest with a close relation while they answered personal and sensitive questions.

They were also asked to share negative feedback with a close relation.

And researchers found people dealt with their honesty better than expected.

Why do people lie?

Psychologist Dr Mandy Deeks says often we lie to protect someone else or ourselves from embarrassment, to avoid conflict, or to protect someone’s feelings.

We fear that the truth will hurt the other person.

“Maybe we need to deal with our own uncomfortableness and remember the value of hearing the truth,” says Dr Deeks, of the Health Information Company.

“No matter how painful it is, the truth is better for everybody in the long run and this research shows people would prefer the truth.

“A little lie leads to another lie and another and you expend a lot of energy when you lie because you feel guilty, internalise the dishonesty and it eats you.

“For example, someone who is having an affair may have to tell lie after lie, causing them to feel anxious and not sleep.

“Lying can mean you also miss out on people trusting you when your lie is discovered down the track.”

No matter how painful it is, the truth is better for everybody in the long run.

How to tell the truth

Focus on the positives

If someone asks what you think of their new item of clothing, you don’t have to say, “it’s awful”.

Be tactful and say, “I’m not sure that colour suits you”, or “I really like it when you wear that particular dress or that shape”. Focus on the positive.

Read the room

Choose a moment to be honest when you and the person you’re being honest with aren’t agitated, stressed or angry.

It’s not you, it’s me

Use “I” statements when you tell the truth: “I know family functions are really important to you. I need you to know that I feel uncomfortable and I’ve made a difficult decision to not come to this family event. I send my best wishes but, in all honesty, I can’t handle coming to that function this weekend.”

“I” statements avoid blaming anyone.

Be honest about being honest

Emphasise that you are choosing not to lie because you care too much about the other person to be dishonest.

“That helps the other person see you have taken this harder road in being truthful,” says Deeks.

“It reminds them that it’s because you respect and care about them that you are being truthful.”

Learn more about having honest conversations:

Written by Sarah Marinos.