The Etiquette of Honesty

It’s always good to be honest. But being honest is not the same as being mean or rude. Modern Manners Guy draws the line between sincere honesty and brutal truth. (Hint: It's all in the delivery!)

Richie Frieman
6-minute read
Episode #294

April 30th was National Honesty Day in America. And as much as I believe honesty is the best policy, something tells me that a day dedicated to “telling it like it is” can get a bit out of hand.  Does being honest give you the freedom to openly tell someone to shove it?>


There is a level of honesty that we in civilized society must abide by. But sometimes people misconstrue the concept of being honest. So before you open your mouth to share your thoughts, and in the spirit of National Honesty Day, here are 3 Quick and Dirty Tips about the etiquette of honesty:

Tip #1: Being Brutally Honest

I love when people use the phrase, “Hey, I’m just being honest,” to cover up the fact that they’re just being a jerk. It’s as if “being honest” makes it OK to hurt other people’s feelings or allows someone us to rip into others for not fitting our ideal of what is right. Honesty works in wacky ways, so before you allow yourself to be brutally honest, make sure you truly understand what you’re about to do.

One person who has made a career out of being brutally honest is former American Idol judge, Simon Cowell. Cowell embodied everything arrogant and straightforward, using the phrase “I’m just being honest” as his scapegoat for saying mean things to contestants. He embraced the idea that it's OK to tell some 14-year-old girl that she sings like a dying cat if you clothe your insult in the veil of honesty. Yes, he exaggerated for entertainment purposes, but even when you're judging a singing competition in front of millions, there is still no reason to use honesty as a tool to embarrass or humiliate someone. Just look at The Voice. The show's judges have been able to provide constructive, useful feedback to contestants without resorting to nasty commentary.

Bottom line: You don’t get to claim honesty when being a jerk, that’s not how it works. If you feel the need to be mean, go right ahead but be an adult an own it. Not that owning it makes it right - it doesn’t. But if you want to play that game, then be real. Don’t claim that honesty is what drives you to tell people off. 

Tip #2: Dining and Honesty

I’ll be the first one to admit it - I can’t cook to save my life. Cooking to me means ordering out or microwaving something from the freezer section.

I do however love to eat. I’m an easy sell as well. When it comes to food, I will try pretty much anything.  Having a reputation as someone with a wide ranging palette, I’m always the one who is presented with a new dish to try at someone’s house. And when the cook asks, “Well, what do you think? Do you like it?” If the answer is "No," I make sure to choose my words properly so I don't offend. Here’s a perfect situation where your level of honesty needs to be checked. Remember the old saying, “Think before you speak.”

Let’s look at the situation closer. Say I'm at a dinner party and I was offered a taste of a certain family member’s new chicken dish (I won’t name names).  And let’s pretend that this particular dish could rival dog food in terms of quality and consistency. Let’s just pretend (wink-wink). Nonetheless, this is not the time to tell the family member how awful their dish tastes.  I mean, what can you gain from being that honest? What do you expect the poor family member to say? “Oh, you’re right, the dish I spent 5 hours making does in fact taste like raw clay. Thanks for being so honest!”


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