The last several weeks have really left me at a loss. I’ve had multiple (3+) clients call me either in a panic or stressed to the max. One said, “I know I can get an honest opinion from you. Tell me if this is true…”. Another started the conversation with, “I just need someone to be honest with me. Can you do that?”.

They feel by asking for an honest opinion that they will somehow avoid the use of rhetoric altogether. They would be wrong.

Of course, I don’t have a hidden agenda for these clients usually. I want to help them. They’ve already signed the contract and I’ve already agreed to try my best. However, that doesn’t mean that I (or anyone else claiming to be ‘Honest’) doesn’t choose their words carefully.

As I said, I don’t want anything extra from them that they are not already providing, but what is it about me or my position that screams “here’s someone that won’t BS me”? What is it about asking “for honesty” that means that they will get it?

If you want to buy a car, you ask the mechanic about the best one to buy. They know the ins-and-outs. More importantly, they know what goes wrong and what it will take to fix it. They also are not trying to sell you a new car. People often think this makes mechanics “more honest” as a result. Here’s a situation where I was mistaken for being a blogging mechanic.

About a month ago, in a training call, I told a client, “Of course, after the launch you can email our Support team for help”. They had a ton of questions and I knew they were going to have more. Their response, “but what about you? Won’t you be available?”. I told them that I’d be in the background and help when I’m needed, but that “Support knows just as much as I do”.

Their reaction, “Bad answer. You should know more than them”. At the end of the training, they said they “Appreciated my honesty”. I felt as though it was a dig at my comments about Support being able to help. I mean, come on, they’re an entire team that is not afraid to ask others in the company for help. No way I should know more than an entire group of people.

I got their point though about how much I should know, but the whole experience left an odd taste in my mouth.

I’m not a salesman. I’m not a mechanic. Heck, I shouldn’t even be the factory worker that manufactures your car (though sometimes I wear that hat). I’m the guy that helps guide your car through the factory floor. I also make sure you get all the features you were promised in your contract. I am not the guy to change your transmission or check your oil.

[Fun fact: I have done some work on cars before and could probably help you change the oil in your car. Though my Father, who worked on cars most of his life, would say, “you’re full of bs son”.]

My point, don’t confuse someone’s role at a company. They are not more (or less) honest as a result of their title.

Honesty is not always what you think it is or should be. In the several cases of anxious client phone calls, I’m not saying anything different than I would have normally said. I recognize that they didn’t need honesty. They just need someone who will listen and not add fluffy language around the answers. They needed someone to be empathetic.

It doesn’t mean that I’m being “more honest” because I use less words. It doesn’t mean I’ve given up on thinking before I speak just because I wait for you to be finished talking. Those are just parts of active listening strategies.

More often than not people are honest. At the very least, they are reactive. Unless they are reading from a script or a programed up-sell manual, they are telling you some version of the truth. If you’re getting stressed because, “no one can just be honest with me”, then just remember they are reacting to you. It’s your tone, your demeanor, your responses to their answers that promote their behavior.

Asking someone to “be honest” is really just asking them to be more mindful of you.

It’s one thing to confuse a person’s job or role. It’s another to confuse what you’re asking. I know it can be hard to change. If it’s possible, consider changing how you talk to others before you ask them to change. You might try just being candid yourself.

I hope you add something to your everyday rhetoric repertoire. I know I still have quite a bit of thinking to do when it comes to these clients wanting someone to “just be honest” and they decide to come to me.

Honestly, it’s a bit odd, but I’ll take the compliment.