Is Honesty Really the Best Policy at Work? 8 Tips for Dicey Situations


It’s probably unwise to tell your boss his cologne reeks or to inform everyone that your coworker’s headache is really a hangover. But in matters of business, honesty does pay off.

From time to time, a scenario arises at work that requires you to be honest despite potential awkwardness: Maybe it involves breaking bad news with your manager or reporting a coworker. Navigating honesty in the workplace can be tricky, but these eight tips will help you be truthful while remaining professional:

1. Be honest sooner rather than later. If you take your time coming forward with the truth, people may wonder whether you were trying to hide it, particularly if it’s about a mistake you made. Own up to any missteps right away.

2. But be careful with complaints. Every rule has an exception, and in the case of complaints, it is usually best to give yourself time to process the situation and decide how you want to express yourself. There’s a difference between honest criticism and a knee-jerk reaction.

3. Take care with timing. When breaking bad news, consider things from the recipient’s point of view. Don’t delay too long, of course, but be mindful of the exact moment you choose to have an honest discussion, particularly a negative one. For instance, your boss probably doesn’t need to hear just before a board meeting about the client complaint you received.

4. Stick to facts and specifics. When it comes to honesty in the workplace, avoid exaggerations and hyperbole. Instead of telling your manager that your coworker always misses deadlines, explain the specific incident: “The report I needed was due Friday, but he delivered it on Monday.”

5. Avoid tattling. “He spends a lot of time on Facebook” might be an honest statement, but does it need to be said? Before reporting a coworker, ask yourself what your motivations are. Is her behavior affecting your ability to do your job, or does she just irritate you? Obviously, illegal or threatening behavior such as bullying or sexual harassment should be reported immediately. But unless it impacts safety or productivity, your boss doesn’t need to hear a rundown of all your colleagues’ annoying habits.

6. Be conscious of your tone and attitude. A light tone and a few jokes won’t make breaking bad news easier – in fact, it may downplay the seriousness of the situation or make it appear as if you don’t really care. On the flip side, you don’t want to be overly dramatic. Deliver the news with the appropriate level of gravity.

7. Have honest discussions privately and in person, if possible. This is particularly true when the subject of the conversation is sensitive. If you’re broaching a delicate or serious matter, avoid email or texting. It’s best to meet face-to-face so you can convey the information clearly and discreetly, but a phone call may also work if it’s the only option and both parties can talk privately. 

8. Offer solutions and keep it positive. Whether you’re reporting a coworker or confessing to a mistake, don’t present your manager with excuses and explanations. Come prepared with a few ideas to resolve the issue, and ask for input on how you should handle it.

How honest are you with your boss and colleagues? Share your advice on honesty in the workplace in the comments below.

Related Articles: