At a recent panel during the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) conference in Denver, a participating journalist asked what suggestions we had regarding how to talk about yourself when you first meet someone who could be a source or a prospective boss. “Should I just say whatever comes to mind? Should I just be me? Because I don’t want to pretend I’m someone I’m not…”
This is a question we all struggle with on an ongoing basis. When we meet someone new at a personal level, when we are interviewing for a job, and even in a well-established relationship with a partner, a friend, a work colleague or a boss. How much do you say about what you think at any given moment? How much do you filter?
Contrary to the most common advice that people give, namely that you should be yourself and say what you think, I believe we’ve been gifted with rationality and the ability to edit ourselves for a reason. In the context of building relationships, if the goal is to develop trust with someone, you don’t want to commit honesticide. That is, suicide by honesty. There’s little value in revealing details about yourself, your thoughts or your feelings if you know – or suspect—it will either hurt the other person or at the very least not go over well with them. There are things that, once said aloud, cannot be taken back no matter how much you apologize. Case in point, General Stanley McChrystal.
(And please understand that I’m not talking about standing up for what you believe even if it’s in disagreement with other team members.)
What happened to General McChrystal (losing his job following comments he made about the Obama administration to Rolling Stone magazine,) happens to ordinary citizens every day in a less splashy way. Think about it: Did you close the door during a job interview when you talked poorly about your former boss? Did you alienate a girlfriend when you told her that you couldn’t figure out what her hot boyfriend sees in her? Did you miss a promotion because you friended your boss on Facebook and kept posting your personal comments (“being yourself”) as if he/she weren’t there?
In any given situation, it is critical to trust your gut to tell you what information you need to convey and what is actually TMI. Sometimes not saying something will get you in trouble, and at other times the opposite is true. I’m not suggesting that you lie about who you are or pretend to be someone you’re not. Believe me, your identity will not suffer if you forgo telling your new acquaintance that you are wearing pink underwear for good luck.
In a world where we’ve all become voyeurs and where we share way too much through our social networks, the risk of committing honesticide is ever present. Just keep in mind that being completely honest all of the time is not only impossible (as an observer of the world you only have part of the truth) but more importantly it is also overrated.