Greg Dinkin gets honest about honesty. When do we pour out our hearts? When do we bite our tongues? Is radical honesty the best policy after all?
“Honey, I joined a dating website and there is someone I have been flirting with because I am bored with our seven-year relationship.”
Leyla posed this as a hypothetical in response to my praise for Brad Blanton’s book Radical Honesty. She also wrote, “Now that could ruin a relationship. This radical honesty can be dangerous!” To find out if that was really the case, I started asking Leyla questions.
I am grateful for Blanton’s search for the truth; I can’t remember highlighting another book more. His advice also points to the danger of blindly following advice without being clear on your goal. More specifically, before deciding how to communicate in any relationship—business, family, or romantic—ask: What is my objective? What do I want?
I agree with Blanton that honesty is critical to intimacy. When we ignore the hurts and the slights and withhold from a partner, resentment builds. As I learned the hard way, withholding feelings stands in the way of clarity, depth, and a heart connection.
Years ago, my former girlfriend (let’s call her Sally)—who wasn’t living with me but often stayed at my place and used my computer—went online and saw the browser open to match.com. When I got home, she calmly asked, “Honey, is there a reason you are on a dating site?”
I told her the truth—that a woman had emailed me and I clicked to see the message. She said no more and that was that. I don’t know how she really felt, but I suspected it was a bigger deal than she made it out to be. Her failure to probe deeper left many unanswered questions such as: Why hadn’t I disabled my account when we started being exclusive? What was I hoping for when I read the message?
Sally was such a sweetheart that maybe she hid her feelings so as not to seem jealous, nagging, or suspicious. Blanton would call that a lie. I wasn’t entirely truthful either.
Had we both been radically honest, I would have told her that I was feeling guilty simply because I looked at other women. I shared with a friend—though not Sally—that I viewed being turned on by other women as an indicator of a problem with our relationship. My friend, who was happily married, laughed and insisted that I would never stop getting turned on by other women. The only thing it indicated was that I had a penis. I wasn’t so sure. The fear of losing Sally led me to withhold my feelings from her (just as her fear of losing me led her to do the same).
Like many couples, we chose the safe haven of coexistence rather than the courageous, and often scary, path required for intimacy. We broke up two months later.
Had I expressed my true feelings to Sally, I know one thing for sure: We would have gained clarity. She might have said, “If you even flirt with someone else, we are done.” She also might have asked what I felt was missing in our sex life. She may have said, “I want to know more about what turns you on.” For all I know, she could have told me that she, too, had wandering eyes and wanted to negotiate a “hall pass.” Could I have handled that truth?
No matter the outcome, honesty would have had created more clarity. It certainly would have put an end to any “cold war” and moved us from denying to dealing. And here’s where I absolutely agree with Blanton: If we want intimacy and depth in a relationship, we must be forthright with our feelings.
If I agree with the principles in Radical Honesty, why did I use the word “stupidity” in the title of this column? Because, honestly, controversial headlines get clicks, and I want this column to be read by millions. I also want to be revered as a thought leader and paid handsomely to speak at your next company event. (That’s enough ego-driven honesty for now). The other reason is that an unwavering policy of radical honesty fails to consider your objective—and often, intimacy is unnecessary for a successful, non-romantic relationship. Worse, dispensing the cold, hard truth can be driven by ego and get in the way of what you truly want.
Pretend you are making a pitch in which your objective is to make a sale for the highest price. Would you say to a prospect, “I’m quoting you twenty grand, but if you threaten to get other bids, I can go as low as fifteen”? Would you say to a poker opponent, “I resent you for trying to bully me; I think you’re bluffing”? If your goal is to make friends at the poker table (as it is for many losing players), then go ahead and be radically honest. If your objective is to win money, the very essence of your strategy relies on keeping your cards—and your honest thoughts—close to the vest.
Whether it’s business, poker, or personal relationships, the essential question is the same: What is your objective? Do you want a heartfelt connection with your boss; or do you just want the ignoramus to keep signing your paychecks until you find something better? When it comes to annoying in-laws or step-parents, are you aiming for intimacy with them? Or is your goal to get through a meal without incident in order to increase intimacy with your spouse/parent? If the latter, would you be better off speaking the radical truth or holding your tongue?
I would love to have a deep connection with my stepdad. I followed the steps that I advise my clients to take: I listened. I took the time to walk in his shoes. I spoke my truth. The only clarity I received was that he was either incapable or unwilling to even hear me. After making this type of effort for more than a decade, what I really wanted to say to him was, “I resent you for being a clueless, controlling asshole.”
Offering our truth to those who live in denial is stupid. It’s the equivalent of putting quinoa and kale on the menu at Burger King. That is why, before speaking the radical truth, I took a page out of my own book (The Poker MBA), stopped, and asked: How will this message be received; how will it land on him?
This is where Blanton and I disagree. Because I took the time to consider the other person, I could predict his reaction. And because I’ve experimented with my stepdad enough to know this relationship has no hope for depth, I withheld. Blanton might call me a people pleaser or a coward. He could make a sound argument that using poker as a metaphor for life honed my ability to be a bold-faced liar. The very act of anticipating what another person will say—of walking in a person’s shoes to predict their response—may be the problem, not the solution.
I can imagine Blanton telling me that lying is the source of all stress. I would tell him that honesty can be used as both a tool and a weapon. This is why it pays to ask: What does my honesty serve? Who does it serve? If it is only your ego, is it really for the greater good to be radically honest?
The choice to placate my stepdad, though not always easy to execute, was simple to make because I got clear on what I wanted. Namely, I want to spend time in the same zip code with my mom. The only way to do so is to get along with my stepdad. Further, every time I send him a gift or utter a kind word, I increase the heart connection with my mom. Blanton would call me a sellout who is on his way to an early death. I would counter that I am a man with the emotional intelligence and discipline to make the uncomfortable, and courageous, choice that serves my objective rather than my ego. How do you see it?
Let’s return to Leyla, my friend in the seven-year relationship who has been flirting online. Leyla, like all of us, will find her truth by asking questions. The best one to start with is: What do I truly want? If she wants to maintain the status quo, to coexist and meet some of her needs in a mediocre relationship, would she be better off suppressing the truth? If she is seeking clarity, could radical honesty be the catalyst that frees her from a shallow connection?
Speaking her truth might encourage Leyla’s boyfriend to share his true feelings. His admission, in turn, could lead both of them to open their hearts, connect deeper, and rekindle their relationship. Next thing you know, they are living the real-life version of Escape (The Piña Colada Song).
The Russian proverb says, “I would rather be slapped with the truth than comforted by a lie.” I would add one word to make this proverb more useful…sometimes. Your choice will depend on the situation, and it comes back to the key question: What do you want?
Take the time now to think about a relationship that is challenging you and ask these questions:
Even if it means holding your tongue, would getting along on a surface level be better than speaking your truth and creating discomfort?
Before being radically honest, have I considered how my words will land on the other person? By doing so, will it take me closer or further away from my goal?
Do I truly want intimacy, and if so, am I courageous enough to speak, and to hear, the truth?
Now take a step towards radical honesty and send an email to [email protected] telling me if you are being courageous in your relationships. I could benefit as a writer and coach from your radical honesty in regards to this column, so please share your truth with me, being as specific as possible.
Radical Honesty is one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read. It is only radical stupidity if you fail to run it through your own filter and consider your objective.
About the Author
Greg Dinkin, a decisions coach and speaker, is the author of The Poker MBA (Random House), The Leading Man (Vital), and Amarillo Slim’s memoir (HarperCollins). A former professional poker player, Greg won $102,000 at the World Series of Poker, cofounded a literary agency, and delivered a TEDxTalk on Mind Shift. Learn more at gregdinkin.com.