Honesty is the best policy. But maybe not always. While something may be true for you, it might hurt someone else’s feelings. This doesn’t mean you should outright lie, it’s just that sometimes, some things are better left unsaid or expressed in as fewer words as possible, to spare people from unnecessary hurt.
“When we feel compelled to tell the ‘absolute truth,’ we are actually acting from arrogance rather than kindness,” says psychologist Elisa Robyn, PhD, a relationship and career transitions specialist in Arvada, Colorado. According to Erin Hinek, LPC, head of group practice Fleurish Psychotherapy in Atlanta, Georgia, , “we often feel the urge to tell these secrets or insights because it feels good to us in the short-term, but disclosing may ultimately lead to damaging our relationships.”
To make sure you don’t ruin your relationship with a family member or friend or compromise your chances of ever getting a promotion at work, here are 17 little white lies it’s acceptable to tell when you want to avoid uncomfortable situations.
When you hate a gift
It’s the thought that counts when it comes to gifts in general, but what happens when someone’s thought has made them get you one of the worst things you’ve ever set your eyes on? Well, there are many things you can do, but, under no circumstances, can you tell them you don’t like the gift.
Just imagine what your Grandma would feel about you disliking the scarf she knitted just for your birthday. You can’t hurt someone’s feelings like that. “It may be best to smile and thank the gift-giver anyway,” says Erin Hinek, LPC, head of group practice Fleurish Psychotherapy in Atlanta. If you know what’s good for you, “graciously accept the gift, especially if the relationship is important to you,” she advises.
When you don’t agree with someone’s parenting style
Parenting is no easy task, that’s for sure. There will always be endless debates about breastfeeding versus bottle, time-outs and whatnot but at the end of the day all everyone wants is to be a good parent. You might think your friend is crazy for using disposable diapers, but it might be better to keep your opinion to yourself. “Unsolicited advice will only create more conflict or tension,” says Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., a psychologist in Washington, D.C., and author of The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up With Your Friends.
“Parenting is personal and criticizing a parent’s choice is not necessarily going to make them feel open to receiving your opinion,” explains Hinek. Unless their approach directly endangers someone, don’t interfere in anyone’s parenting style unless you are specifically asked for advice.
When you don’t think a baby is cute
As a good rule of thumb, unless you have something nice to say, better not say it. This is especially valid when someone asks you one of the most dreaded questions of all time: “Isn’t my baby cute?” Your answer to that? “Of course!””. Always. The baby may not look cute to you, compared to your own or to other babies you’ve seen, but no one wants to hear something bad about their baby’s looks.
“All babies are beautiful in some way,” says Robyn. “Sharing that beauty with the new parent supports them through a stressful transition.”
When discussing your professional weaknesses
“What are your greatest weaknesses?” This is one of the questions that job seekers dread the most. How can you answer that without ruining your chances of getting the job? Well, I can tell you what you shouldn’t say if you still want to make a good impression: the whole truth.
“Disclosing too much may come back to bite you by casting you in a negative light to the interviewer,” says Hinek. “It’s important to strike a balance between your objective of getting the job and your self-respect in wanting to be open and honest.” Admitting you have a problem with waking up in the morning or not managing your time properly is not exactly helpful when trying to get a new gig.
When you think your boss is a bad manager
Badmouthing your boss every time he leaves the room, no matter how bad he is at doing his job, does not make you a better replacement. In fact, the whole situation might turn against you. “Telling the truth at work can come back and haunt us,” says Robyn. “At some point, we might hear that the leadership is aware that we are unhappy with them and in turn wonder if we are a good fit for the company.”
When you think your coworkers are not as smart as you are
If you think the level of stupidity present in your office is mind-boggling, don’t just go around and say it. No one likes to hear they’re not considered smart or good enough at doing their jobs. “Often, when we think we are building a reputation of telling the truth, we are actually building a reputation of being a complainer,” says Robyn.
More than that, constantly pointing out that you are smarter and better prepared to do certain tasks will not always help you land on a higher position within the company. Contrary to what many people think, a 2019 survey carried out by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, revealed that the skill that employers seek most when recruiting their employees is the ability to work in a team followed by professionalism, leadership and career management competencies.
Why you want a certain job
In most cases, the main reason you want a job is to pay the bills. But telling this to your future employers might not be the best approach. Companies want to hear how you chose them out of dozens other because it’s been your life dream to work for them not how miserable you are since you’ve lost your job 6 months ago.
A smart “I want to grow within your company” or “Call center has always been my passion” will increase your chances of getting hired compared to “I need the money really bad”.
When you have negative feelings about someone’s good news
The new person in your friend’s life may not seem like that much of a big deal to you, especially since you hear the same story every month or so, or you might think that the new business idea your spouse shared with you is not that good. Does this mean you have to rain on their parade and tell them what you actually think? Definitely not.
“Be cautious of being that person who always rains on other people’s parades,” says Adina Mahalli, a certified mental health expert and family therapist for Maple Holistics. “When someone has exciting news for you and you have bad news to share in that realm…keep your honesty to yourself.”
Your negative opinion about the way someone looks
Most of the times, when people ask questions like “Does this dress make me fat?” or “Do you think I look funny in this outfit?”, they don’t want your honest opinion. People are simply looking for validation, not the brutal truth. In other words, next time you think you have an opinion about the way someone looks, think twice about saying anything because you might hurt that person’s feelings and self-esteem.
Even if you are specifically asked to say the truth and nothing but the truth, this does not mean that you can ask when [your friend] put on so much weight,” says Mahalli.
When you don’t like someone else’s partner
Even if you can’t seem to understand, for the life of you, what some of your friends see in their partners, don’t just go around voicing that. Is it a good idea to have a private conversation with your best friend and share your dislike regarding their partner? Most definitely not, if we were to listen to Wyatt Fisher, a licensed clinical psychologist and marriage counselor in Boulder, Colorado. “If you don’t really care for your friend’s spouse yet they seem happily married, keep your opinions to yourself,” he says… Otherwise, you may risk causing irreparable damages to your friendship or even lose that friend for good.
When you don’t care about something your partner’s passionate about
Being in a relationship with someone with whom you have a lot in common is a good thing but you definitely don’t need to be like two peas in a pod in order for the two of you to be happy. However, if your significant other is deeply passionate about something you’re not nor will you ever be, you might want to keep your mouth shut.
According to Robyn, your honesty can be interpreted in the wrong way and might come out as criticism. More than that, “decreasing or ceasing involvement in pleasurable activities can fuel resentment toward you and the relationship,” says Ritu Reimer, MA, LPC, a licensed professional counselor.
Whether or not you find your spouse’s friends attractive
Yes, there might be people out there more attractive than your significant other, even among his/her group of friends. But should you tell this to your partner if he/she asks what you think about his/her friends? If you want to maintain harmony and peace in your relationship and group of friends, the answer is a big fat NO.
“You need to weigh out how much the lie would benefit a person or a relationship versus how fessing up to the truth might be irrevocably harmful,” says psychotherapist Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW, practicing in southwestern Florida.
When you dislike your in-laws
“No matter how frustrating, annoying, or overbearing your partner’s family might be, your partner isn’t the person to complain about it to,” says Mahalli, who points out that constantly lamenting about disputes with your partner’s parents, even minor ones, “means that you’re probably asking for an argument.”
Unless it’s something that truly jeopardizes your relationship with your partner or something that cannot be tolerated, like an abusive behavior towards you or your significant other, you might want to discuss your discontent with a friend instead of criticizing your mother-in-law in front of her son.
Why you’re not closer with someone
No one is universally likable, and that’s ok. When it comes to certain people, it’s just impossible to form a closer relationship, despite your best efforts. It’s just not working. While you are not obligated to be friends with someone who’s not your cup of tea, voicing your reasons might not have a positive outcome.
Instead of coming up with a never-ending list of flaws and shortcomings, just say you don’t know that person very well. An innocent white lie never hurt nobody. More than that, “limit the length of intersections with certain people, choose settings that are less intensive, and take short breaks during interactions,” recommends Bay Area clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD.
When you check up on exes on social media
Most of us did it, there’s no point in denying it. In fact, according to a 2017 study from SuperDrug, around 61 percent of married Americans admitted to checking out their exes online at least once a month. It’s not the fact that they want to reconnect with them, it’s more of a habit they’ve developed in time and can’t seem to shake off.
However, you know what they say: curiosity killed the cat. Therefore, unless you can come up with a very good reason for your occasion stalking, there’s no point in telling your current partner about it and risk killing your relationship instead.
The intimate details of your past relationships
Speaking of exes, the fact that you’ve been married before is not something you can keep to yourself and not tell your current partner. It’s a significant piece of information that might make or break your relationship. However, there are other intimate details that need to remain between you and your former partner.
In addition, comparing your past partners to your current one is unhealthy for you and unfair and hurtful for your partner. He might feel he is lacking in areas where your ex excelled and suffer self-esteem issues. Did I mention it’s rude?
When someone isn’t as talented as they think they are
When your friend is thinking of building their career on a talent they don’t really have, it might be your job, as a friend, to show them the pros and cons. Ultimately, it’s their decision but at least you did your part.
However, if your friend couldn’t quite nail it when it came to making the pie recipe they’re constantly bragging about, there’s no point in twisting the knife any further. As long as they don’t poison anyone, there’s no point in telling them their cooking skills could use some improvement. “If the truth is only going to be hurtful, we should ask ourselves why we feel the need to share it,” says Robyn, who points out that criticizing someone could cause them to give up doing something that they truly like entirely.