Monday, January 12, 2015

Honesty is Such a Lonely Word

In a freelance writers' forum recently, someone posted a list of excuses to use when firing a client. They're very similar to the, "It's not you, it's me" line of excuses people use when breaking up with someone.



"Honesty is always best," one freelancer said. She was supported by about a dozen people who agreed that you should always tell a client why you won't be working with him/her again. They need to know what's wrong with them so they can fix it.



I thought it over...and realized those people are wrong. Our entire society is based on lies. Apply for a job and you'll see what I mean. Does your rejection email come with the excuse, "We didn't hire you because you're loud and obnoxious?" Or does it say something like, "We've decided to go in a different direction?" I'm guessing the latter. Try the former and you're much more likely to get blasted online. They might even go a little postal on you. 



I've tried honesty. It never goes well. The person either a) gets defensive or b) gets angry. Either way, the blame will always be squarely placed back on you.



The truth is, if a client fires a writer or a publishing house rejects a manuscript, it is rarely done with honesty. And we're all happier for it. Our society is based on vagaries like, "This just isn't the right fit for us at this time" instead of this:



For that reason, I firmly believe the most professional thing to do when firing a client is lie. "I've accepted another assignment that will be taking up the vast majority of my time for the rest of my working life" is one. You can also go with, "This isn't the right fit for me" if you're dealing with a jerk. The point is, you put the blame on you, which fits into their own worldview that they are right and the other person is wrong. It's a worldview we all have, to be honest!



What do think? Is honesty the best policy? Or does it just lead to drama?

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70 comments:

  1. Congratulations to the winners!
    On a personal level, honesty with tact is best. On a professional level, not so much.
    Ultimately, the person feels attacked and will go on the defensive. They won't listen or change. You can't go into a situation negative and expect positive results.

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    1. I agree! The argument was, "The client needs to know what's wrong with him so he can fix it." I think we all know that whether you're rejecting a job applicant or putting in your two weeks' notice at work, the people you're rejecting are going to find a way to blame you before they even start to believe something is wrong with them!

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  2. Significant other, 99 percent of the time, honesty yep. Anyone else, nope. I'll lie my arse off haha because the haters will just start blabbering on. Better to just move on and lie then deal with that crap. We lie everyday in every way, its how society works. You start talking like a child and letting your thoughts fly free and your likely to get shot lol

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    1. Except when your significant other asks if this dress makes her look fat. Honesty is NEVER the best policy there. (Unless it doesn't!)

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  3. So excited I won! And I'm with you, being too honest can be hurtful. And I've learned people don't really listen anyway. So be polite, break it off, and move on. No reason to say what you really think of someone.

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    1. I've also found that when I'm honest, they tend to try to convince me to change my mind. "This isn't the right work environment for me" brings questions of, "Why? What can we do to change?" Whereas a lie like, "I just took on a gargantuan job and signed a contract where I can't work for anyone else" brings no argument. It's the same with job applicants. "We decided to go in a different direction" is a clear "this is the end of our dealings with you." If you say something is wrong with the candidate, he/she may decide to contact you and convince you that item can be changed.

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  4. I think that honesty with diplomacy is the best solution. When firing or hiring a worker, it's a tough call sometimes. I had to fire an employee as she was just not working out and I gave her plenty of chances to smarten up but she just wasn't cut out for the job and I told her so gently.

    I had another young man who was late for his job interview and when he got on the job site, he was a motor mouth. Two combinations I can't work with. I let him know why I wasn't going to hire him hoping that he'll be on time on his next job interview. I wish him well on his next job.

    I would feel worst if I had to lie. It just wouldn't work for me.
    JB

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    1. Saying, "This just isn't working out for us" isn't really lying, per se...but even when firing someone, it's always prettied up. "You're an idiot" is never going to work. "You aren't the right fit for our environment" is the truth, but it's a prettied-up version of the truth. I usually don't lie when firing a client but if I say, "Despite the fact that your job is as a translator, your English is horrendous," that's offensive to that person (even if it's true). "This isn't the right communications fit for me" is a prettied-up version of the truth...

      Then there's also the fact that my "truth" is also my opinion...so in taking the advice to always tell the truth when firing a client, truth and opinion aren't the same thing. "This isn't the right fit for me" is the truth, while "you're a complete jerk and I can't believe anyone would ever work with you" is my opinion. I may have found someone's personality horrible, but there may be someone out there (somewhere) who would enjoy it...or at least be able to tolerate it better than I could.

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  5. I've always had a problem with being too honest, and you're right, it can be offensive. People have told my husband they are amused by my honesty. He tells them it's only funny if you don't have to live with it! Ha!

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    1. I was raised with the, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all" mindset. However, some people were raised to be "honest." If you're ugly, they'll tell you. (Maybe not that extreme, but you get it!) They pride themselves on being honest but I consider it downright rude, having been raised to have manners. I think someone once said, "Politeness is the degree to which you censor your thoughts." I think if we all were honest 24/7, we'd have a much less civil society, for sure!

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  6. I'm all for lying in such cases and situations :) Or if you're to be honest do it extremely carefully and diplomatically

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    1. It's always a form of the truth...in business, it seems professionalism merits being very vague when giving reasons for things. There seems to be an unspoken list of appropriate things to say when rejecting someone...each one is geared toward the truth, but not quite the real truth.

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  7. congrats to your winners! i think we soften the truth a great deal through life.

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    1. I do, too. I think we have to balance honesty with politeness and professionalism--and in a professional setting, you're never, ever allowed to say certain things.

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  8. I've only got one rejection that was in email form. Sent literally minutes after I left. Made me feel real good.

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    1. Emails always seem impersonal, but in business, it seems to be the standard way to communicate these days.

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  9. congrats on your amazing week! I am anti-honesty in this case--I have very thin skin and would not want to know why someone wouldn't hire me or take my MS! My agent only sends me the helpful rejections for this reason lol

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    1. Thank you, Beth Ellyn! Still recovering. There was an editor back in the 90s who would send very blunt, very descriptive rejections. The funny thing was, they were VERY colorful. Almost like reading a movie review by a funny critic. Yes, they hurt, but you had to admire her creativity.

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  10. Congratulations to all of the winners!
    I'm inclined to agree with a statement you made in a comment to Bijoux:

    "Politeness is the degree to which you censor your thoughts."

    I'd like to think I do this.

    Your post and the comments were very interesting, Stephanie.

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    1. Thanks, Dixie! Yesterday I realized that forum wasn't the right fit for me--their advice is very odd. (See, I even prettied THAT up!) That was just one of the things. While I certainly don't advocate making up excuses to get out of things, I think we can be polite and gracefully bow out of situations rather than listing everything that's wrong with someone as we go.

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  11. If the situation warrants it, I believe it is OK to be vague.A vague statement may even be truthful in a general way and going into details may not be appropriate. If rejected often enough, a person should be able to figure out that something they do may need to be fixed.

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    1. You'd hope! However...I think if you really feel it will help the person in the future, I don't think it would hurt to offer advice. It depends on the person. If you're dealing with someone who goes through life angry and hostile, however, chances are that feedback isn't going to change that person. It would likely take hours of therapy (and admitting he/she NEEDS therapy) to change that, if it can even be changed.

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  12. I love this post! I totally believe in being honest but doing it tactfully. You can write a negative review and still highlight the bad as well as the good. I don't see why you can't do that in every day life as well. ;)

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    1. You can--although when ending a relationship with a client, I get the feeling they don't really want my opinions on what they should change. In a working relationship, sometimes personalities just don't fit, so "this isn't the right fit" is a good response because it's true. That's what it boils down to--most of us don't want a list of what other people find wrong with us! In fact, it would be better to make lists of what we all like about each other.

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  13. Congratulations to all the winners.

    I'm not going to lie. If you're a jerk then I'll tell you that. Perhaps not use the word jerk, but you'll know what I mean. You are not allowed to put your monkey on my back either. It not my monkey and it's not my circus either. It's yours. Period.

    Have a fabulous day. :)

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    1. LOL I like that part about the monkey. When I worked for a very hostile, angry, overbearing client once (there's been only one that bad), I ended the working relationship with, "This isn't the right work environment for me." I felt that said it all. It seemed unprofessional to tell the whole truth...

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  14. I remember going for a job interview years ago, while taking a day off from where I was currently employed. I lied about why I wanted the day off. I still felt a little guilt that I had lied, but it led to a new better job.

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    1. I think everyone does that. I've heard of employees being fired when employers found out they were interviewing elsewhere, so in that case, lying is a matter of surviving (financially, anyway). I've also heard of employers interviewing people on the side before firing someone to make sure a replacement was in place--a similar sort of deception...

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  15. I think it depends on what the truth is. If you can't do something because you're busy, that's one thing. But if you don't want to work with someone because they're a jerk, then it's probably best not to say that because you never know if people are crazy.

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    1. I think you're right. And, interestingly, "I'm sorry, but I'm too busy to take on more work at this time" is actually a bad excuse, I learned. I had one former client come back every week (no exaggeration) with the question, "Are you available for work yet?" Finally she found someone else, I'm assuming...

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  16. Stephanie, I would like to think honesty is the best policy but I do think you are right... a lot of people can't handle it and it is easier to let them down nicely.

    I know honesty hurts, yet I wish we could be more open with each other... there is no cut and dry answer...

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    1. I think feedback is very important--it's what makes us grow. Someone who is truly interested in self-improvement will turn the spotlight inward, though, and look to ways we can improve. We'll want that feedback. But there's a definite difference between truth and personal opinion. I think life is about finding those people (work and personal) we fit with and forgetting about those we don't if we can!

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  17. Congratulations to the winners.
    Honesty? Honestly I am torn. I like it, painful as it can be. On a personal level. Professionally? Not so much. And it does need to be applied with a liberal greasing of tact. Personally as well as professionally.

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    1. Well put! Tact is a lost art. Professionally, you also have to be careful what you say. If you tell someone the "truth" and your paths cross again (or they spread the word about you), you could find yourself on the unemployment line!

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  18. What some people might call honesty in these instances I see as unprofessional idiocy and as your George pic implies "being a jerk." Seriously, nobody wants to be told hurtful "truths" in some misguided attempt to help them improve, especially in a professional setting. I vote for "we're going another direction" and "your submission isn't right for us at this time."

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    1. Yes, because even editors and agents with years of experience admit that what doesn't work for them might work for another.

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  19. Congrats to the winners! :)
    I think Alex said it best, honesty with tact. I always try to be considerate of those I have to reject. It's already hard enough to get a rejection, why rub salt on the wound? I try to gauge how receptive they are to "feedback." If they seem receptive, then I give it to them as gently as possible. If not, I don't bother.

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    1. Right...I hate having to give someone bad news. I had to fire someone once in the work world and it was horrible. There were many truths about that person that were never mentioned. It was more, "This just isn't the right match" and even that wasn't taken well.

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  20. I'm in sales, so you know what I think about lies. Lol. No, but seriously, I don't see them as lies necessarily. It's more like...non-full-disclosure. Just to make the break nice and clean, and nobody getting hurt.

    I've had people tell me to be honest when I'm beta reading or editing. I'd say half of them took it well. The other half, not so good.

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    1. The thing about an honest critique of your work is that even when it hurts, it helps us grow. You have to read the critique, process it, and accept or reject the changes. But even when they don't take it well, they should thank you for your time and move on. I can't imagine asking someone to beta read or edit my work, then not taking their comments graciously!

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  21. Congrats to the winners! You are right, there are cases where honesty is definitely not the right policy. I also believe the fewer words to say something is the better way to go in cases like these.

    betty

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    1. I've found that to be true, too. If you look at businesses' responses to negative reviews or complaints, it's always simple and to the point. "We are sorry you were disappointed in your experience. Please let us offer to make it up to you." Even when the customer is in the wrong, getting defensive only looks unprofessional.

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  22. I mostly agree with you. I think when you have to deal with your online reputation, it behooves you to be as vague as possible. But if someone pushes for a reason, I think giving them the honest truth in a very tactful way can be positive. It entirely depends on the situation and the people involved.

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    1. Definitely--it's all situational. You have to go with your instincts most of the time.

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  23. I think there are ways in which honesty can be productive. For example, if I didn't like something, I don't have to say I don't like it, personally.

    "I'm not a fan of..."
    "I'm disappointed you used so many...."
    "I didn't understand the plot, so...."
    "It would have been better...."
    "I'm more into...."

    White lies are okay in some instances, but sincerity is much better.

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    1. And you notice that you put many of those things back on you. "I'm not a fan of..." instead of, "You did xyz incorrectly." It's the same as, "This isn't the right fit for me." It takes the finger-pointing out of it, which helps ease the situation.

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  24. Hi Stephanie! Congrats to all your winners! I'm so glad you had such a long list of entries.
    As the wife of a man who has been out of a job for over two years, I am dying for someone to tell him the truth. Actually, most companies just don't even respond anymore after interviews. It's like you don't exist. We all do have to judge the situation and decide if telling the truth will be helpful or harmful, I guess I get that. But please, let's try to direct the person we are blowing off if it will be well taken. If we don't, who will?
    Blessings,
    Ceil

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    1. True--if it will be well taken. I think businesses are so worried about lawsuits now, they just don't say anything. If they give the wrong reason, it could result in some sort of claim against them. Most people won't sue, but that fear overtakes everything, sadly. Praying he finds something very soon.

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  25. I watched my husband try once to be honest with a client and it wasn't pretty! I think you're better off using an excuse that won't hurt anyone's feelings.

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    1. I think that's at the heart of it--I believe in building people up as much as possible. If someone's a jerk, I just try to distance myself rather than confronting. I even do that in traffic! When someone's being a jerk, I stay in my space, sing along with the music, and let them get way ahead of me to avoid being in an accident when they're crazy driving catches up with them!

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  26. Congratulations to the winners.
    Yes, sometimes honesty can be harsh.
    Sometimes there can be useful and constructive criticism in there, too.
    For example, when I was querying my urban fantasy. I was getting rejected and unsure why. An agent (finally) said, "we aren't meeting the [other main character] in the first five pages, and that's a problem." I raised an eyebrow and reread. The character was there. But, ahhh, my Beta readers said there was no need to point out the correlation between her real name and online handle. It was "obvious." I hadn't factored in that my Beta readers were all gamers, and thus made the mental jump easily. The agents, however, were not gamers, and thus had no idea and no reason to draw the same conclusion.
    So, in this case, honesty worked out.
    On the other hand, if the honest reason is just mean, yeah, I'm with you- white lies.
    I'm betting you could use your post here as the basis for another book.

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    1. My agent always reviews my work and her feedback is invaluable. They know the market...they live it. It's such a relief to have someone like that on your side.

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  27. Congrats to the winners! I think in the publishing industry, the little lie is better. Publishers, editors, and agents would get a lot of angry emails and maybe more if they were honest all the time.

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    1. I think they already do get some hostile emails, from what I've read on Twitter!

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  28. Congrats to the winners!

    Honesty only leads to drama because our culture is built on lying. If we were taught to tell the truth with tact, if truth were valued, there wouldn't be all that anger and defensiveness, and we'd all be better for it. Lying is cowardly. Becoming irate in the face of well-intentioned honesty is immature.

    VR Barkowski

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    1. I agree! Even if the intention is bad, becoming irate is immature. It's always best to be the bigger person...plus it makes them even angrier because you aren't responding to their nonsense!

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  29. I completely agree. Just give me a 'it's not a good fit for me.' Its so subjective anyway.

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  30. I agree that when dealing with clients it is best to use the methods and wording you mentioned. Otherwise people get angry and out of joint. I think you have a calm way of getting out of it, making them feel like they are still important, and not hurting any feelings. :)

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    1. That is true. It's always best to be the bigger person. We have to get past the idea that it's our responsibility to police the world and show everyone how they should behave! Telling people what's wrong with them has no real benefit.

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  31. It's better to be kind than to be honest. We only really want criticism when we're trying to improve our writing. If someone isn't looking for improvement, criticism, even constructive criticism, only makes the listener defensive. And they lose what they could have learned from it in the process.

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  32. Ohh tough call and it depends on the person. I actually think that there are so many great authors out there but they don't know the right people or kiss ass the way they are supposed to or they are not famous morons who decide to write their biography when they are 22. I think diplomacy, tact and constructive honesty is better than the usual crap they give one. Some people can't handle the truth(oops Jack Nicholson is calling) no matter what but I believe honesty is needed to help a person grow

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  33. I just want some tact behind whatever they are telling me. You know? Brute honesty is called that for a reason.

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  34. I agree, up to a point. For example, if an agent or editor has constructive criticism about my writing, I'd love to hear it. It may hurt at first, but ultimately, I want to get better.

    I recently worked for a client who was a terrible communicator, had completely unrealistic expectations, and took over four months to pay me. I won't work with them again, and I suspect they know this, but if they did ask, I'd gently tell them that the wait to get paid is unacceptable. Maybe it would help the next guy.

    However, when an abusive ex-employer asked me for coffee? Yep, lied my face off!

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  35. For me, being lied to is one of the biggest pet peeves I have. I would rather have someone tell me the truth than lie to me.

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  36. Ah it's a delicate question. I'm honest but well it's not an easy thing and it depends on what it's about. Tricky thing!

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  37. I've learned to do creative non-fiction, simply because in my line of work, honesty is rarely rewarded but often punished harshly.

    Father Nature's Corner

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  38. Lol, to have vomit pour out of our tear ducts. That's a good (and yucky) one. I like being honest but in cases where we need to tread lightly, I try to be delicate as well. Try, try, try. Sometimes it might not succeed. Congrats to the winners, and it was so fun having you talk about tween reads from the 80s, Stephanie!

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  39. Honesty with a light touch seems to be the best policy. I'm often surprised by those people who say they always "tell it like it is" and then if you do that to them they get quite sniffy.

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