Words at Work

Kathy McIntosh: Blunt honesty is not always the best business policy

KATHY McINTOSH, Boise author, speaker and freelance editor. Owner of A Well-Placed Word.December 17, 2013 

Kathy McIntosh

In my last column I wrote about the many synonyms for the word lie. Not as in reclining, but as in telling tales. I mentioned that I thought there were probably more words for lying than for telling the truth. Seems to be true.

The definition of true (in the sense we're discussing) is “in accordance with reality or fact.” Some synonyms include correct, acknowledged, accurate, right, verifiable, well-documented, the case, factual, literal, unvarnished, unelaborated, precise, authentic, genuine, actual, apodictic, candid, open, honest. Apodictic was new to me. It comes from Greek and means clearly established or beyond dispute.

Rather than delve further into synonyms for true, I decided to discuss whether or not it is always a good idea to tell the truth with the words we use in business.

In researching the word truth or honesty, I found the following examples of its use:

“Always speak truth if you want to be successful in business.”

“Honesty is the best policy in every walk of human life.”

I don't agree. Sometimes people use the excuse of honesty to be cruel or unnecessarily blunt. Some people justify tattling or gossip as “only being honest.” Sometimes being too honest gets us into unnecessary trouble.

Although I profess that it is essential that our words, especially those we write, be clear and understandable and express the facts as we know them, I am also a fan of diplomacy.

Diplomacy is defined as skill in dealing with others without causing bad feelings. Tact is the ability to do or say things without offending or upsetting other people.

We can be honest and clear without shredding another person’s credibility. When mistakes are made, it is not always essential to lay the blame on someone. Those are excellent times to use the passive voice: “The package was opened in error” gets across the mistake as well as “Kathy opened the package by mistake.”

When we honestly believe a project is headed for disaster, there are ways to express our concerns with diplomacy. When we do that, we are apt to engage the cooperation of others rather than raising their dander.

If I think a bake sale is an obsolete method of fundraising (and I actually have no opinion on this subject except to say that I love baked goods), I might simply suggest we try something new for next year’s project instead of deriding bake sales: “Even though we’ve had successful bake sales for several years, I wonder if next year we might want to try a silent auction of our children's art.”

Because words have power, consider their impact before uttering or writing them. Honesty tempered with kindness and diplomacy may be the best policy.

I have used although and even though interchangeably in today’s column. Someone commented to me recently that they’d been asked to distinguish between the two. I had always thought they were interchangeable. My research shows that to be true. Even though and although are conjunctions, used similarly to the prepositions despite and in spite of.

One source stated that even though expressed a stronger contrast than although. That may be true, but I think it is a minor distinction. Though can be used as well. As usual, I stand ready to be corrected, though.

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kathy@awellplacedword.com

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