Choosing honesty

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending an event where the keynote speaker’s topic of choice was “candor.”

He flanked the stage, touting the importance of honesty between awkward sips of water and I groaned a bit internally. Yet another low-impact talk about a topic that everyone loves to throw around. “Honesty” is a hot button buzzword that many entrepreneurs love to use. “Honesty” is right up there with “authenticity,” “being real,” “fair trade,” and “all-natural.” These words melt in our mouths like sugary butter, giving the conscience that happy blend of sweet and savory, but they don’t mean anything.

So what does honesty really mean?

The dictionary has a few definitions of honesty, but let’s talk about this one: honesty is “freedom from deceit or fraud.”

In business, being honest means managing expectations, regardless of what others may think of you. If those expectations are mismanaged, you run the risk of appearing dishonest.

Let me give you an example.

Wednesday evening, I opened up my inbox and found an email with a link to an article on a well-known beauty and fashion site. The article’s title caught my eye–“Porn Star Beauty Tips That Are Surprisingly Great”. Out of sheer curiosity and frustration, I clicked the link.

Curiosity because beauty tips from porn stars sounded pretty cool.

Frustration because I felt the “surprisingly” adverb in the title was completely unnecessary.

When the article loaded, I noticed the title was changed to “Beauty Tips From Porn Stars”. Below the title was a seemingly candid note stating that after receiving many negative reader reactions, the editors changed the title. I began to smile and nod–they were aware and took responsibility for the dismissiveness of the article’s title.

…Until I noticed the post date of the article was Feb 8, 2015–one month ago.

Despite a note that seemed to be the editors taking responsibility, a month later they sent out an email using the older, offensive title as clickbait.

When that realization hit me, I felt cheated.

I pictured editors huddled in a dark room, discussing ways to drive traffic to the article, while trying to keep up a façade of ‘good’ guys.

Random Editor: “Let’s use the salacious title as clickbait. When users get to the article, they’ll see how caring we are because of our note. Mwahahahaha.”

Dramatic, I know. Minor? Maybe.

But the bigger problem here is that this company lost my trust. Were they honest about (what I assume to be) their desire to drive clicks to the article, I’d have been turned off by their lack of integrity, but admired their honesty.

To me, they lack both integrity and honesty. I will forever apply this moment to every future interaction with this company. Keep in mind, I know nothing about the company’s backstory, or their ethics. In a mere five minutes, I’ve made a snap judgment about this company and now I’m an official detractor.

This is the price you pay running a business. You rarely get second chances. Your audience knows that things may go wrong. But what they want to see is how you’re going handle the situation: with honesty or with frail schemes?

Choose the latter and you lose your audience. When you lose your audience, there’s no one to listen and get excited about what you do. cue crickets

Choose the former and you’ll take some punches, but you’ll have far more respect.