This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

Most of us probably agree in theory with the principle of transparency—being honest, open, and candid. It is easy to say, “Honesty is the best policy!” Dig a little deeper and it is not so clear.

Imagine you’ve discovered a mistake in your work. The impact is relatively minor. Does it help or hurt your relationship with your boss to call attention to it?

What if you discover a mistake in your client’s work? The impact is significant. So is the likelihood of embarrassment (or worse) for them. Are you honoring or dishonoring the relationship by saying nothing?

Or … you learn something unfavorable about a competitor—one your customer is currently engaged with. Are you the hero or the jerk if you bring it up?

Sometimes a lie by omission seems like a very reasonable option. The principle of transparency is hard to live by. It takes courage, for one thing. And it takes a certain level of discernment to figure out when sidestepping the truth is hurtful versus helpful.

Here’s a simple test to apply when you’re debating “to tell or not to tell,” thanks to Chip Grizzard, CEO of Grizzard Communications. Chip participated in the first Trust-Based Selling program I led for his company. The question on the table was, are there ever times when you shouldn’t tell a client the whole truth?

Chip’s answer to that was simple: If you’re debating it for more than 30 seconds, then it’s time to say something.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Bonus: Making it Real

Take a good, hard look at a situation where you’ve been reluctant to tell the whole truth about something. Don’t judge yourself about it—assume your hesitation means you’re human, not dishonest. In what ways might being honest benefit the relationship? How might you address the issue with courage and diplomacy?

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).