You actually can handle the truth more than you think

“Researchers defined honesty not as absolute truth, but as ‘speaking in accordance with one’s own beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.’ “

For some of us, having to be truthful all day long would be a nightmare. We could no longer hide behind small lies. We would be forced to reveal painful truths about where people fell short of our expectations. But when researchers at he University of Chicago Booth School of Business actually recruited participants to be honest with everyone in their lives, the consequences of this honesty were not as bad as participants feared.

We can in fact handle the truth

In the Journal of Experimental Psychology, the researchers discovered that we greatly overestimate how badly people will handle us speaking our minds. Across a series of experiments, participants were instructed to be completely honest with everyone in their lives for three days, or to share negative feedback with a close person in their lives.

The researchers defined honesty not as absolute truth, but as “speaking in accordance with one’s own beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.” The participants expected the experience to be more unpleasant and isolating than it actually ended up being.

“Focusing on honesty (but not kindness or communication-consciousness) is more pleasurable, socially connecting, and does less relational harm than individuals expect,” the researchers write. “By avoiding honesty, individuals miss out on opportunities that they appreciate in the long-run, and that they would want to repeat.”

Kindergarteners learn that honesty is the best policy in school, but somewhere along the way to adulthood, these lessons get complicated. Research has found that we are walking contradictions who want to see ourselves as decent, honest people even when we will still lie if we can get away with it.

Often, we avoid the truth because we want to avoid sharing information that is painful to other people. We can make ourselves sick with worrying about how other people will handle bad news. But being honest can ultimately be freeing. Next time, you feel worried about being the bearer of hard truths, you can do a short ritual that life coach Raphael Cushnir advises. When you identify a fear that is holding you back from being truthful, ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that could happen if I went forward in this moment? Ask yourself if you can accept the worst-case scenario. After you weather the maelstrom of emotions these feelings may bring, you will notice that these emotions are not permanent. Once you accept your emotions, it is easier for them to subside.

“Now you know the most liberating truth: The emotion you thought was intolerable actually isn’t,” Cushnir writes. Honesty will not hurt as much as you fear once you realize that you are strong enough to deal with its consequences.

Monica Torres|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at mtorres@theladders.com.