When you ask people what qualities they are looking for in a partner or a friend, a very frequent answer is “honesty”. This quality is super important to me as well. Without honesty, no relationship – no matter if friendly or romantic – can work. So why does this word have such a negative connotation for me? Because it is used in the wrong way too often.
When someone tells me they’re „honest and direct” and that “a lot of people cannot handle that”, it is a red flag for me. I think, someone who is genuinely honest doesn’t have to emphasize it so explicitly – you just know. If a person is trying so hard to describe themselves that way, my experience has shown that usually this is a sign that the person is impolite or even mean in the worst case. Let’s be honest (really!): There are people who like to talk down on others. You see them daily in the comment sections on Instagram, but also in real life – at school, at the office, at the supermarket. And then they mask their behavior with “honesty”. Let’s call this not-so-genuine form of an actually great trait “toxic honesty”.
How do you recognize it?
Genuinely honest people don’t brag about how honest they are. It is so deeply rooted in their character, that they see it as natural. Toxic honest people announce their “honesty” – they pretty much warn us about it, because chances are that sooner or later they will give an impolite or downward rude comment, often followed by “I told you so, I’m super honest”.
Their reaction to your reaction
Very often these comments are hurtful, which is why we react accordingly: our facial expressions are hard to control, we are confused, maybe mad. The way our counterpart reacts tells a lot. Even genuinely honest people might sometimes be a little harsh without wanting to, saying something that wasn’t meant to hurt anyone. Those people will apologize and assure you that they didn’t mean it like that. However, if they tell you that you’re too sensitive or that they are used to such a reaction because not everyone can handle honesty or straightforwardness, then you can be sure it was a case of toxic honesty.
Do they ask you beforehand?
Someone who doesn’t want to hurt you but fears that their honest opinion might to just that, will ask you beforehand if you would like to hear their opinion at all. And even if you say yes, they will not just slam it in your face, but choose their words wisely. That’s how you know that your counterpart is really caring about giving you an honest opinion without being hurtful.
What to do when dealing with pseudo-honest people
Because you deserve it!
If you wanted to know if a certain piece of clothing fits you well and that’s not the case, there is still a way to say that nicely, without insulting anybody. Explain that to the other person – even uncomfortable truths or criticism don’t have to be hurtful!
Be clear about whether you want a feedback or not
Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but if you don’t want to hear, that’s perfectly fine and needs to be respected. Someone whose goal wasn’t to provoke you will understand that without making a fuss about it.
Don’t take it personal
Easier said than done, but ask yourself: why does this person need to throw mean comments at you in the first place? Someone who is at peace with themselves doesn’t need to behave like that. Therefore, make yourself aware of the fact that it’s not about you.
Be a role model
It might sound like a cliché, but it is very true, useful and a good guideline: treat others like you want to be treated. Treat others with the respect that you expect in return. Show others that honesty and straightforwardness can go hand in hand with empathy and don’t need to come across as impoliteness.