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Volume 8, Issue 9

You Should Probably Stop Saying “To Be Honest”

"To be honest" is a classic phrase, but you're probably using it more than you should, says one communications expert.

"[This phrase] is easy to resort to when you want to cut through the crap, come clean or offer your unvarnished opinion," writes Judith Humphrey for Fast Company. "But [that phrase and others like it] also tend to attach themselves to—and subtly encourage—certain messages that are either better left unsaid or ought to be rephrased."

Here are a few cases when your message could be better off without a declaration of honesty:

If you're about to share confidential information. "...prefacing something you're about to say with "to be honest" sweeps away any prospect of mutually agreeing to discuss sensitive information—because watch out, here it comes!" writes Humphrey. If you really want someone to keep a discussion between the two of you, say that and explain why first, so the other person can consciously decide whether they want to hear it and keep quiet.

If it precedes criticism. Another moment when "to be honest" commonly appears is right before negative feedback. But when you start with "to be honest," what follows will likely feel sudden and spiteful rather than constructive.

If it's going to undercut what you've already said. "As soon as you hear somebody say, ‘to be honest,' your mind flashes back to what was just said," writes Humphrey. "You sit up, take notice and half-consciously wonder whether their preceding statements were less than honest. Should you discount or ignore them?" For example, your manager might say something like, "I like what you've done to improve your presentation, but to be honest, you need to focus more on your central point." Her addition of "to be honest" adds weight to the criticism that follows it and diminishes the positive feedback that came before.

This article is from the Advancement Weekly, August 28, 2017 issue.

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