For this article I'm going to do things a little differently and just start with the bottom line. The answer to the title question is, "yes, honesty is the best policy when it comes to relationships."

There. Now that you know, for those of you who are in a bit of a rush, you can move on secure in the knowledge that being honest in your relationships -- all of your relationships -- is the path that will serve all around. Sure, there are a few caveats and subtleties of which to be aware, but knowing that being honest is the way to go may in fact be the only thing you need to know in this moment. Now, if the idea of being honest in relationships has your heart beating a little faster, if you've got a somewhat puzzled look on your face given that you're not sure if honesty in relationships is even possible, or if you feel like you need just a little more information, then keep reading. You might be surprised at what honesty in relationships actually entails.

The first thing to understand is the definition of honesty as it relates to relationships. In this context, honesty is about so much more than mere fact-sharing. It's about sharing specific information with a view to serving the relationship. It's about engaging in meaningful exchanges that move the relationship to a new plane. In other words, when you are engaged in an interaction with someone, it behooves you to ask yourself how the relationship will grow through the sharing of this information. How will the relationship be impacted? How might it move to an elevated playing field? Once you have the answers to these questions (and yes, you can get the answers relatively quickly), hold the space of intention and desired impact, and then honestly share the information that matches.

Now, that being said, if you want to interact honestly in relationships with a view to having such honesty serve, the first thing to do is build a foundation for that relationship that can withstand the pain of honesty. Because sometimes, honesty hurts. Even when you as the sharer of information are clear on how you want the relationship to grow out of your sharing, the recipient of your information may not be ready to go there. It happens. And when it happens, your best intentioned sharing can land on deaf ears, or if not on deaf ears, on ears that can't get past the perceived pain. In other words, if you haven't taken the time to build a relationship that understands the need for honesty -- and the corresponding potential for pain, perceived or otherwise -- then, when you are honest, the pain will over-ride your intent and do more harm than good. So, build a firm foundation.

Another point to remember is this: being honest does not mean divulging or sharing every last bit of information that you have in your database. Sometimes, holding back information is a good thing. As I recently read -- and I wish I could remember the name of the author to ascribe this quote to -- honesty requires you to tell the truth, absolutely, but not necessarily all that you know (understand, I'm not talking about legal proceedings here). Here's an example.

You meet a friend for lunch after she's been unwell for a number of months. When you see her, there's physical evidence of that fact; she's lost weight, her face is gaunt and thin, and she looks tired. None of this is surprising -- after all, she's been unwell. That being said, to look at her and say something to the effect of "Gosh, you look awful -- but it's good to see you out and about again." probably won't be helpful. Nobody wants to be told that they look awful -- even if it is the truth. Because here's the thing -- it's only the disagreeable part of the truth. The other half of the statement -- "it's good to see you out and about again" is also the truth and in all likelihood, sharing this bit of information will serve the individual and the relationship better. Admittedly, tone, intent and nature of relationship all play a part in how information is received -- this is where the idea of building a solid foundation for honesty comes in -- and yet, the truth that she continues to look unwell isn't one that needs to be shared; she does need to hear that you're happy to see her.

So, here's a question: if honesty in relationships is such a good thing (if you do a google search you'll find quote after quote about the value of honesty), why do so many people struggle with it? Why do some struggle to speak honestly, and others struggle with the truth as they hear it? Well, here's my take on it, based on some recent experiences I've had, both in my personal life and in witnessing the lives of clients.

Honesty Error #1: You don't want to hurt or be hurt.

This idea of "not wanting to hurt someone else" often stops people from speaking at all. And the challenge here is that the relationship gets built on false premises. Now I know, some of you are saying, "but didn't you just say that I don't have to share the whole thing?" Yes, I said that. And, you don't. And, you do have to share what serves the relationship. When you hold something back, is it because it lets you off the hook? Or does it serve the relationship? What you want is the latter, not the former. When you hurt -- or become hurt -- in a dialogue based on the intention of service, believe it or not, the relationship gets stronger and the pain is bearable. You actually will find a way to dissolve the pain through the strength of the relationship. (even though sometimes, you'll need time before you're willing to go there).

Antidote: Be clear about your intent, be sure you're speaking from service, then speak -- and let things unfold.

Honesty Error #2: You don't give yourself permission to be ALL of you.

That's right, you set up an image of how you want to be perceived (successful, kind, loving, professional -- whatever); then, when you find yourself wanting to share a piece of information that doesn't align with your desired perception, you stop yourself from speaking the truth. After all, you don't want to express anger towards someone if you're trying to prove that you're an unconditionally loving person, right? WRONG! Because, in this case, your choice to hold back information doesn't serve the relationship with the other person (they don't know that you're angry or how to move forward constructively) AND you're not serving your relationship with your self -- you're not being honest about your full range of emotions.

Antidote: Give yourself permission to be REAL -- with a view to serving and growing all of your relationships, including your relationship with self.

Honesty Error #3: Fear of losing the relationship.

This particular fear is filled with irony. Why? Because, when you stifle the voice of truth in any relationship, the relationship ends up being a false one. There's no way it can last -- not genuinely. It's built on a foundation of falsehood, at least to some degree. Again, if you're really wanting to hold on to the relationship, you've got to build a foundation that is solid, and that equates to honesty in this context. And, whether you like it or not, sometimes speaking the truth in service of a relationship means that the relationship will dissolve. So there's a way in which you've got to detach yourself from the relationship, and trust that it will unfold meaningfully. Not all relationships are meant to last a lifetime.

Antidote: Always be clear and speak through the fear (rhyme is unintentional, I swear).

Error #4: Thinking that disagreement is a bad thing.

I mean, do you want to be disagreed with? Do you want to have to defend your position? I'm guessing not. Let's face it, it's so much easier to speak a point -- a truth, if you will -- when you know that everyone is going to be onside. But the thing is, that's not the way the world works -- never has been, never will be. Disagreement is not a bad thing, in and of itself. Disagreement, especially when it can be held and entertained in a respectful container, actually serves relationships beautifully. It allows individuals to find ways to engage with one another despite opposing viewpoints. But the gifts of disagreement can only be received if you risk being disagreed with in the first place.

Antidote: Know where you stand, be unattached to having allies, and let go of your need to be right.

Error #5: Needing to have your words be perfect.

Let me tell you, not only does this particular error stop people from engaging honestly, it stops people from engaging at all. Like it or not, you are not perfect (other than being perfect in your own imperfection). And because you're not perfect, you will make mistakes, you will get your message wrong, and in the process you will be misunderstood. Trust me. All that being said, not being perfect is not a reason for holding back what needs to be said. Instead, in any relationship you must forge ahead, push yourself, challenge yourself to keep speaking until you feel as though you've been heard -- and, as indicated in error #3, let got of needing others to agree with you.

Antidote: Accept your imperfections. All of them.

When it comes right down to it, the bottom-line is this: human relationships are strongest when they are built on foundations of service, permission to be real, and honest communication. Honesty is really about showing up in service of human engagement and advancement, not about having to be right and being able to say "I told you so." When you can let go of your need to be right, your perception that imperfection is bad, your desire to be agreed with, and your fear of losing relationships, then you can engage in truly honest interaction with those around you. This sort of interaction will mean that you are surrounded by relationships that matter, relationships that serve, REAL relationships in all areas of your life. And that, my friends, is a treasure like no other.

Author's Bio: 

Gail Barker is a professional life coach, visionary,and inspirational speaker. She is the founder and principal coach of Stellar Coaching & Consulting, as well as co-author of The Control Freak’s Guide to Living Lightly: Manifesting a Life of Total Trust. She has a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Western Ontario, and holds the designation of Certified Professional CoActive Coach (CPCC) through the Coaches Training Institute, which is based in California. Her career path has taken her through 10 years of service in the non-profit sector, and includes everything from front-line work to team management, all prior to launching her coaching company in 2003.

In a coaching capacity, Gail specializes in supporting women leaders as they strive to bring their leadership visions to life; for Gail, her objective is to have these dynamic women show up in the world living lives of ease, even as they undertake the challenges of leadership. As a woman leader herself, Gail “walks her talk”, living and leading as an example for women leaders everywhere.

Gail adheres to the International Coach Federation’s Code of Ethics and Conduct, and is a founding member of CoachesCanada Gail’s overriding mantra is that life is most fulfilling when you live your life on your terms, and that this is most possible when you choose to live by active choice, rather than passive default.

Most recently, Gail has launched an innovative new program for women leaders called Women Leaders Connected™. The 6-week, coaching-based program, strives to bring women leaders together in a collaborative container, with a view to building alliances and elevating women’s leadership success.

Learn more about Gail and her work at