Can We Be Too Honest?
I recently witnessed a tweet from the author and spiritual guru, Deepak Chopra, where he stated, “I would be a spiritual hypocrite if I did not share my true feelings.” This made me think – would he really be a hypocrite, spiritual or otherwise? Does honesty mean sharing everything we feel and think, regardless of the consequences?
In truth, none of us operate with that absolutely unfiltered level of candor unless we suffer from Turrets Syndrome. But we each have an internal algorithm that assesses in mere nano-seconds what we will and won’t share, and why. Sometimes we over-share out of our own discomfort in an attempt to control, or create the illusion of intimacy. Sometimes we are inappropriately silent, and disown our own integrity (which is what Deepak was addressing) in order to not alienate others or risk being attacked. Lastly, sometimes we choose our words to incite emotions and elicit a response both through careful inclusion and omission. That last approach is how many people see marketing.
Marketing, in general, has a reputation for a tremendous lack of honesty. Most customers approach overt marketing messages with a healthy dose of skepticism, and now they are becoming highly suspicious of marketing, even in channels traditionally perceived as neutral. The news media is one such channel, which highlights how we perceive marketing as communications with an agenda. The irony is even those, led by Donald Trump, who are decrying the media as having an agenda, have their own agenda, which is to draw attention to others’ agendas!
Regardless, once we perceive there is an agenda from a company or an individual, and the agenda requires us to change something, we become defensive. Customers try to deflect and escape, while friends and family members shut down. The key here is that we embrace the messages with an agenda attached, so long as they agree with what we already think and feel.
We are all marketing something. It is unavoidable. We all sell ourselves to potential love interests, to employers and to clients. We share our ideas, our views, and our feelings on social media, or over the dinner table. Even as we make a point to be our authentic self, that becomes our agenda. And every time we put our self out there, we are making a decision – how honest am I going to be with my friends, my clients, my co-workers, my acquaintances – and myself – with what I am about to share? That decision is typically not a considered one. Our personal tolerance for sharing is more habitual than conscious, and especially in the current political climate, it is often fearful and angry, regardless of your position.
The line between being standing for yourself, and disrespectfully standing against others, whether overtly, or manipulatively, can be very thin one. When we stand against another, our honesty becomes a weapon, and someone must be wrong in order for you to be right. However thin that line may be, it is not a fuzzy one. We only need ask ourselves one simple question: What are my motives? If they are to coerce someone to do what they do not wish to do, think, feel or believe, we have lost our focus and also our connection to them. If my motives are to understand, to share, explore choices and grow personally, our focus becomes the connection itself. This applies to every interaction from the sales cold call to a lover’s quarrel.
A useful acronym for assessing whether your words are coercive or collaborative in personal interactions is T.H.I.N.K.
T.H.I.N.K. can also be applied to marketing messages as well, as we work to truly identify with our coworkers and our customers building the appropriate intimacy with them that helps brands grow. Here is a look at each aspect of T.H.I.N.K.:
THOUGHTFUL. Is what you have to say thoughtful of yourself and the other person. Are you expressing with empathy? Do you care about them and how what you are saying affects them?
HONEST. Is what you are saying honest? Are you only glancing the surface with your honesty (It hurts my feelings when you do that!) or are you willing to dig a little deeper (It hurts my feelings when you do that because I don’t feel heard or that I really matter to you.)
INTELLIGENT. As a local comedienne likes to say, “Don’t be stupid, people!” Yelling, violence, holding someone hostage on the call, name calling, personal attacks, making accusations, speaking in absolutes (always, never,) and aligning with prejudiced ideologies is not intelligent. It is abusive and bullying, where intelligence has taken a back seat to uncontrolled emotional outbursts we regret later.
NECESSARY. Not every thought we have needs to be uttered just because we can. Many a regrettable, gossipy, libelous, cruel statement has been spoken with long and painful consequences that sometimes are never overcome, regardless of whether it was even true or not.
KIND. Honesty that is designed to help you and others improve is a true gift. We are a mirror for others to see themselves in, as they are for us. Being kind to others even as you are honest with them is truly to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.