Business Class

Honesty, The Best Policy

In Dale Carnegie’s book, How To Win Friends & Influence People, he repeatedly states that you ought to be honest, sincere, and genuine. He did not devote a chapter to this topic, but often talks about it. I believe that being honest, sincere, and genuine would be the hardest technique for me to master.

When giving praise or appreciation to someone, honesty is very important. It truly is worthwhile to express your gratitude for what someone does. However, it’s easy to fall into the trap of giving praise insincerely. In one’s zeal to offer appreciation, it is common to praise someone either for things they do not do or even for things that are not commendable.

For example, in The Andy Griffith Show there is an episode were Aunt Bee makes her homemade pickles. Because Andy, Barney, and Opie did not like the pickles, yet also do not want to hurt Aunt Bee’s feelings, they decide to get rid of the homemade pickles and replace them with store bought pickles. With Aunt Bee thinking that the boys like the pickles and the boys enjoying the store pickles everything seems to be well. Then Aunt Bee decides to enter in a pickle making contest. Since it wouldn’t be fair to the other contestants to have Aunt Bee enter the store bought pickles, the boys now had to eat all the store pickles so that Aunt Bee would make her own homemade pickles. Because she though that the boys had liked her pickles so much Aunt Bee decided to make a double batch, much to the boys dismay. The only result the boys got from all this was to give Aunt Bee the encouragement to continue making her unappetizing pickles.

This is a great example of what happens when we give false praise or flattery. It would have been much better for the boys to have kindly told Aunt Bee that they didn’t like the pickles, rather than trick her into thinking that they enjoyed them. It’s not that the boys wanted to lie to Aunt Bee, but they fell into the trap of wanting to give her praise, even though it was not due. 

A major reason why being honest and sincere is so important is because without it we perpetuate falsehood. People need to know the truth, however, by not wanting to hurt or get someone angry we resort to not being honest with them. In our society we are all very sensitive to what people say about us and do not like to be told that we are wrong. But we should realize that it is much better to be told the truth than to believe lies. Obviously one needs to be aware of when and with who it is appropriate to discuss these matters. Also, one shouldn’t be rude or disrespectful, but should rather inform the other person in a polite, courteous manner.

There is an example from Carnegie’s own book where Carnegie told a man, who credited a quote to the Bible, that the quote was actually from Shakespeare. The man did not like to be told that he was wrong and asked another friend, who knew Shakespeare very well, to clarify for them. This other friend agreed with the man that the quote was from the Bible. Later Carnegie asked the friend why he said that, since they both knew the quote was from Shakespeare. This is what the friend said, “…Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save his face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him?…”

I do not mean to say that one should shove their ideas and beliefs on other people, neither do I mean to say that one should argue with others, but to hide the truth simply because one wants to be liked or does not want to show someone that they’re incorrect, is the wrong way to approach personal relationships. There are some situations where it is either not your place or not the right time to inform someone that they’re wrong, but there are other times, like the example above, where the truth must be told. Which is worse, to tell a person they’re wrong or to add words to the Bible? Also, I am wondering what would the man think if he later found out that he was wrong and that the other friend told him a lie.

Just to clarify I do not think that Carnegie wanted anyone to be dishonest or insincere. I am just thinking that this philosophy might lead to problems. Being honest, sincere, and genuine is truly important, even though it is one of the harder principles to implement.

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