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Can Being Too Honest Shoot You In The Foot?

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"I won't work for someone who is not honest," Jack said. "I have to trust them or I won't give them my best. After all, I am always honest and they can take my word to the bank!"

How noble to be truthful. That being said, how it is managed and expressed can be problematic.

In this recent conversation, Jack is telling me how unlucky he's been, working for all these dishonest companies, he's thinking of leaving his current employer. He is complaining to me how people should appreciate his deep integrity.

I ask for details. He loves solving problems and works as a CSR in financial services. Clients call him with queries to troubleshoot. According to him, his clients adore him.

Recently, due to a customer's complaint, the company realized that they need to alter the team's process so it wouldn't happen again. They told Jack to tell the client that the problem had been caused by a computer glitch and that it has now been resolved and to give their apologies for the inconvenience.

During the course of his conversation, he disclosed which department had messed up and how. But no worries, the process is being changed and it won't happen again. After all, honesty was the best policy and he was incapable of lying. It was human error, not a computer glitch.

In frustration, he told me that these "difficult people" he works with are not honest and want to "corrupt" him.

His choice of words caught me off guard.

I asked him a few questions about his "honest" intervention. Here's a glimpse of some of the conversation.
M: "Who was the most important person during this situation?"
J: "The client, of course."
M: "What did the client want or need?"
J: "To know what happened in his account, why there was a discrepancy."
M: "Why did he want to know this?"
J: "So I would fix it."
M: "If you were the client, what would be most important to you? Knowing how something happened or having it fixed?"
J: "Knowing why something happened first! I'd want the truth and I'd want to see if this company is transparent."

OK, you can see where this is going. His mindset and judgy habits are solid.

M: "So whose needs were you focusing on? His need to have it fixed, or your need to be 100% truthful?"
J: " He needed to know what happened." (He was a little testy with me.)
M: "OK, so knowing the whole truth, right down to who had made the error would have been your personal priority?"
J: "Absolutely!"
M: "Which one was more important to HIM, knowing who to blame; or having it fixed?"
J: After awhile of back and forth he finally admitted - "Having it fixed."

Trying to help him change his optics and challenge his noble but narrow belief system, I asked a few more questions.

M: "What is the main part of your job? What is the most important result the company would expect from you?"
J: "Taking care of the customers' complaints. And I'm good at it!"
M: "Is customer retention a problem or priority for this company?"
J: "Of course! Without customers, I don't have a job!"
M: "How does the client feel about the company when you point out that your colleagues make errors?"

You see, Jack has a saboteur living in his head.

This judge, or inner voice, gives him a false sense of superiority by expecting total honesty at all times. He also uses it to measure whether someone else is "good or bad". When they haven't "measured up" to his scrutiny, he tries to show them the error of their ways. (We all have met someone like that.) In the past, he has angrily quit jobs "to show them."

This conversation was longer but I basically suggested that although being truthful is a quality I share and admire, extreme honesty may be harmful. Little white lies can move things along and protect people we care about. Both at work and at home. If the phone rings at home, and our loved one says "if that's so and so, tell them I'm not available or that I'm out. I'm too exhausted to talk with them right now"; that is not usually an ethical dilemma. (Call display has solved this for the most part.)

We also talked about the fact that what's important to him may not be so important to the client. Also, even if Jack leaves this company, (which he is considering) is there a company out there who doesn't worry about customer retention or want teams that work well together? Managers look for employees who play nice with colleagues.

His boss can thank me for shaking up his belief system. I told Jack that our job is to give the client what they are looking for and to ensure that what happened is being fixed so that it won't happen again. There is no need to "prove our honesty" since that is not in question and throwing a colleague under the bus is a no-no.

This conversation came about when he took advantage of my introductory coaching conversation I offer on my website. You can find the scheduler here

Obviously, the conversation was longer than this article suggests and we dug down into where this came from. He started talking about being lied to a lot and now he seems to walk around with a magnifying glass, scrutinizing and blaming.

I recognized what Jack was doing because I've done this myself.

At one point, I worked for a bully who wanted me to falsify documents. What this bully boss was insisting I do was completely illegal and he threatened to fire me regularly. The threats never worked, I never falsified anything, but it did affect my trust in the next few employers. That particular boss was very profitable AND dishonest. For me, that came at a cost.

That experience put me in a state of fight or flight and temporarily brought me back to old ways of thinking. I was on red alert for any form of dishonesty.

Growing up, I had developed an unhelpful "black and white thinking approach" that my parents had taught me. Everything was measured as either good or bad, honest or dishonest. This limiting worldview is filled with judgement, self recrimination and guilt. Someone always had to be right. Not a great environment for critical thinking, innovation or problem solving.

This post is not about avoiding responsibility: it's about losing sight of the bigger picture because of fear, anxiety and inner judges. Now we could have a long discussion about different schools of thought. When we are busy judging and accusing others of things that bug us, are we trying to disown or ignore the very things we don't like about ourselves? Although that deep therapeutic dive has a lot of value (and I encourage people to go do that), it doesn't inform us about what to do today. We might need to make a change within ourselves or influence that person on our team who has these behaviours.

I discovered such freedom when I realized I could focus on solving the problem without assigning blame. Serving the customer well is not black and white. It is actually in colour and it requires diplomacy. We need to discern what is important in order to give them what they need, without being distracted by unnecessary noise during the complaint while they are explaining or venting.

Listening does not involve finding blame.

Listening is just data collecting to find the solution. Letting go of blame is important to strategize for solutions.

There are a lot of moving parts to a healthy and evolving business. Solving their problems without divulging every unnecessary detail does not compromise our integrity. Satisfying the client doesn't mean you have to show them the messy back of the store, just solve their problem gracefully and with good intentions.

Do you know people who shoot themselves in the foot with this "truth vigilantism"? Are there people you work with who don't have a good filter and say things that are unnecessary, self destructive or harmful to the team? How do you give them corrective feedback to stop listening to their anxious judge?

To find out ways on how to improve the collaboration in your workplace, check out my page at and let's have a conversation about how I can help you and your team.

As a Strategist for Recovering Doormats, Monique Caissie draws from 30 years of crisis intervention work to help others increase their confidence to feel more heard, respected and happier. In her quest to better manage the difficult people in her life, she has studied human relations, spiritual texts, psychology and 12 step groups. As a speaker, educator, consultant and executive life coach, she continues to empower others to stand up and take control of their personal and professional lives. Check out her website at