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Wrap benevolent honesty in sincerity

Posted by Peter Post  July 8, 2010 07:00 AM

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Q. My boss's boss didn't invite me to an event, and then he was questioning why I hadn't attended. How to respond? Do I point out that I wasn't invited and apologize for any confusion? I'm at a loss and not gaining ground.


A. A dilemma indeed: either the boss thinks you blew him off, or you get to tell him that he blew it. When we consider how to solve a dilemma at the Emily Post Institute, we apply three basic principles to come up with a solution: consideration, respect, and honesty. The first two are relatively easy to understand. What’s considerate and respectful for all involved? The third, honesty, also seems simple, yet it is by far the most difficult to apply. It’s easy to rationalize not telling the truth, and it’s even easier to say nothing than to be honest and take responsibility for yourself. Easiest of all is the white lie.

White lies seem great at the moment you tell them. They get you out of a difficult situation, and they’re usually cloaked in the good intention of sparing someone else’s feelings. As with any lie, when you get caught—and you will get caught at the worst possible moment—resolving the situation then is much more difficult. For instance, you could say to your boss’s boss: “Mr. Sanders I’m so sorry I didn’t get to your party. I was under the weather and didn’t want to expose your guests. I really should have called. Please, I hope you understand.” Sounds good – you have an altruistic excuse for not being at the party, and you haven’t embarrassed the uber boss for his invitation oversight. Should work, until Mr. Sanders finds out you were really at a concert/bar/baseball game.

So back to the truth. The stark truth—“You didn’t invite me”—lays the blame where it belongs, but also embarrasses. Instead, be benevolently honest. Focus on the issue and not on inadvertently placing blame or accusing your boss’s boss of having screwed up. “Mr. Sanders, could I talk to you? You asked why I hadn’t attended your party. I would have loved to, but, honestly, I didn’t know I had been invited. I’ve been concerned that you might think I simply blew it off. I really didn’t, and I hope you understand.” Part of honesty is sincerity, believability. If he hears the sincerity in your voice and sees it in your facial expression and body language, he’ll most likely believe you.

Your best path is one of benevolent honesty, wrapped in sincerity. Good luck.

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