Sensitive Honesty Leads To Better Social Interactions
May 15, 2013

Sensitive Honesty Leads To Better Social Interactions

I cannot lie. I mean it. The few times in my life when I have tried to lie have ended with my telling the truth almost immediately, which was unnecessary really. When I tried to lie, everything from the tone of my voice to my sweaty palms to my inability to look at the person I was lying to gave away the fact that I was being even slightly dishonest. So, I just do not lie.

However, I also do not say things that are rude or insensitive. I am honest, but tactful. I do not skirt around the truth, but I also do not say things that could be misconstrued or misunderstood or hurtful. I am honest without brutality. And apparently that makes me more socially accepted according to’s latest study. took data from 1,665 people to find revealing statistics about self-monitoring (when one purposely regulates words or actions in social situations). Those who do not self-monitor are slightly less popular amongst their friends, family, and co-workers than those who do. Plus those who do not self-monitor are less sensitive to social cues, have more difficulty understanding body language, and struggle with controlling their anger.

Additionally, these statistics from the study show greater understanding:

  • 69% of low self-monitors take their anger or frustration out on others (compared to 26% of high self-monitors).
  • 73% of low self-monitors do not think before they speak (compared to 2% of high self-monitors).
  • 80% of low self-monitors act impulsively (compared to 3% of high self-monitors).
  • 64% of low self-monitors admit that they often say things that they later regret (compared to 4% of high self-monitors).
  • 66% of low self-monitors have embarrassed their family or friends in social situations (compared to 7% of high self-monitors).
  • 62% of low self-monitors have been called “insensitive” (compared to 3% of high self-monitors).
  • When very angry, the top response for low self-monitors (44%) was to let their anger out (arguing, yelling) without holding anything back. The top answer for high self-monitors (53%) was to step away from the situation or person that is upsetting them, and try to put it in perspective.
  • If the situation calls for it, 94% of high self-monitors said that they would be able to be friendly with someone they dislike; only 13% of low self-monitors said they would be able to do this.

Yeah, none of these sound really appealing, do they? In fact, several seem not just uncomfortable, but unhealthy. Those who do not self-monitor might claim that they are just brutally honest, damn anyone else’s feelings, while seeing those who do self-monitor as being fake. Those who do self-monitor claim that they are being honest while also considering the feelings and appropriateness of the situation, but they might see those who do not self-regulate as brash bullies who care nothing for anyone but themselves. This makes for a complicated dichotomy and uncomfortable conversations.

The truth is that we can be both honest and tactful. We can tell the truth but still get our message across by adapting to the social context, empathizing, making others feel comfy, and creating harmonious interaction. As Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests said, “A little bit of civility and diplomacy never killed anyone, and they make social interactions so much smoother…You can still get your message across. You can deliver criticism. You can disagree with someone’s opinion. But you can do it without offending. The bonus is that this way, others don’t get defensive because they feel respected, and that makes a whole world of difference.”

So, how do we balance honesty without offending? suggested several tips such as using the phrase ‘I understand,’ owning our feelings, taking a time-out, observing human behavior, and considering others. All of these are good advice and helpful in social interactions. explained each in more detail:

  • Use the phrase, “I understand.” This phrase will support your goals if the tension is high and you need to find common ground to form compromises or agreements with others. You can disagree with them, and still appreciate their point of view. This is one of the tenants of good negotiation skills – show them you know where they are coming from, show them that you understand their point of view. Point out what you have in common before pressing on with your viewpoint or demands. Chances are that antagonism will be replaced with a spirit of collaboration.
  • Own your feelings. Consider the difference between “You always do things without thinking about how I will feel” vs. “I feel like my opinion doesn’t matter.” “You” phrases put the other person on the defensive. “I” phrases allow them to see things from your point of view.
  • Take a time-out. It’s important to cool down emotionally when circumstances make you feel angry, even if it’s just going outside for a few minutes of fresh air. You will be able to be more objective about the issue once you’ve calmed down and cleared your head. By taking a time-out (just like we do with children), you will avoid succumbing to the impulse to snap or lash out at others.
  • Observe human behavior. Invest a conscious effort to “read” and understand others. Pay attention to how others are reacting and what they are communicating with you. Putting in that extra effort to really listen and observe can teach you a lot about human interaction and emotions. Sensitivity to situational cues is a key element of self-monitoring. The more attentive you are to people around you, the more information you have at your disposal to guide your expressive self-presentation.
  • Consider others. In today’s world, the ability to get beyond black-and-white thinking, to be open-minded with others, to change one’s way of looking at events, and to focus on the best solution for a given situation is essential for success. Without flexibility and a willingness to consider the perspectives and feelings of others, you are creating additional, unnecessary obstacles for yourself.  To build a more flexible mindset, try doing the following:
    • Put aside your own preoccupations to consider what might be going through other people’s minds in different situations. Ask yourself how you would feel in similar circumstances. In every situation, there are several perspectives. Try to identify at least 2 or 3 different ways to look at it.
    • Put empathy in action. Get involved in helping people in some way, like volunteering. The closer you get to a situation emotionally, the more you realize the difficulties others might be facing.

Honesty is important, but so are other people’s feelings. We can have both with just a little bit of patience and understanding of ourselves and others.

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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