The Value of Honesty In Friendships [10 Ways To Build It]13 min read

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Once upon a time, a friend had a crush on a lady I was having a secret affair with. I didn’t tell him because she didn’t want anyone to know, and I didn’t trust him to understand. He was head over heels in love, and I was trapped between betraying her and being honest. I tried to discourage him from pursuing her, but without explaining why, I couldn’t change his mind. In the end, he didn’t get the girl, and I watched him suffer for nothing. It didn’t take long for our friendship to fizzle out. 

In contrast, I remember when a lady whom I had been making advances on bluntly told me she started seeing someone. Perhaps I had been too slow or wasn’t entirely her spec. Whatever the case, someone else had stolen her heart. I was pained, and let her know how hurt I felt. She said she was sorry, but had to be plain with me so I wouldn’t keep hoping we could be something more. It’s been over 2 years now, and our friendship is still going strong.

My point is, I think that there is a strong correlation between the level of honesty in a friendship and the strength of that friendship. 

Why is Honesty Needed In a Friendship?

Our perception is limited and often influenced by our emotions and biases: It is very difficult to objectively observe things, and impossible to know everything by ourselves. As a result, we often rely on the testimonies of others (typically our friends, family, and professionals) to confirm and add to what we think we know.

However, since what we know as reality is directly proportional to our perception, lies literally warp our reality and without honesty we are blind. And, when our understanding of reality is not correct or complete, we either miss opportunities or get into trouble.

In order words, honesty is important in friendship because honesty in friendship…

Prepares friends for reality

When friends are honest with you, you are better prepared for reality. For example, a good friend will inform you that you are gaining too much weight. They will inform you that being fat will reduce your attractiveness (whether you like it or not, whether you think it’s fair or not). 

If a friend won’t remind you that you need to study to pass your exams or learn a skill to be useful to society they are setting you up for a rude awakening by reality!

Saves friends from trouble

There are different ways to be dishonest. Some are overt whilst some are subtle. It could be by omission, commission, reframing, and so on. Take for example, many diabetic people go ahead to drink Coca-Cola Zero Sugar because it is advertised as sugar-free and healthier, without realizing that the sweetener – i.e. the sugar substitutes – it contains may contribute to the development of obesity and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of diseases.

If you have a close friend who is in a toxic and emotionally abusive relationship, you should inform them of the negative patterns you’ve noticed. This is because your friends may not be fully aware of the extent of the harm they are enduring or the danger that lurks. Sure, some friends may call you jealous or even end it with you (instead of with the toxic partner), but that is the price for honesty.

Honesty is not just something we do because we want to feel good, gain some advantage, or claim moral superiority, but something we do because we respect and care for the next person.

Helps friends improve

A good friend should help their friend improve. But, how can you help a friend if you don’t point out their flaws? The feedback from a friend is like a mirror, reflecting who we are to us, so we don’t step out into the world with blemishes. 

An honest friend will reveal your flaws and strengths so that you can adjust or double down on them. This reflection, though at times uncomfortable, offers friends an opportunity to evolve and become better, or at least avoid getting any worse.

One harsh feedback I often got from friends was on my dress sense. They complained that I didn’t invest money, time, and energy into looking good. And, even though I often countered with the argument that I didn’t care what others thought of me, the truth was that I did, and over the years, I’ve slowly improved on that.

Builds trust amongst friends

As I mentioned earlier, the reality is very vast and convoluted making it impossible to foresee all the dangers and opportunities. So, when we find someone who consistently tells us reality as it is – enabling us to navigate safely despite our blindness – we naturally feel trust towards that person. 

For example, if a friend warns you about a pyramid scheme that another friend is encouraging you to join, and the pyramid scheme later crashes, you will trust the friend who warned you more than the friend who encouraged you.

There is always a comfort that comes with knowing that a friend is not afraid to tell the truth – that you can rely on them to stay in touch with reality even when you are blinded by your ignorance, emotions, and biases.

Creates a Safe Space: 

A huge part of honesty is not covering the truth, or more accurately, actively uncovering the truth. This plainness not only allows for vulnerability but also helps foster accountability and change. The result is that the friendship becomes a safe space – as everyone can be their authentic selves without fear of judgement, and on top of it, get help while improving on their weaknesses.

For example, if you tell a friend that you’re struggling with a drinking habit, an honest friend might share their own experience with, maybe, procrastination and offer encouragement and support. They might also suggest strategies that have helped them overcome their own bad habit.

Prevents misunderstanding, bitterness, and spite:

Honest friends don’t suppress their true feelings and concerns. which prevents bitterness and spite from building up over time. Instead, they address issues openly and honestly, maintaining a more transparent and authentic friendship.

For example, a friend who doesn’t appreciate their friend smoking in their car (maybe because of how it smells, or to avoid trouble with the police) can tell that friend from the start, rather than keeping it to themselves and being upset about it later. This of course could mean that their friend can smoke when they are home or out in a bar or something. 

In the end, it requires honesty to set boundaries, and without boundaries, it is hard to love a friend as they may unknowingly keep doing things that annoy or hurt you.

Helps in resolving conflicts: 

Conflicts inevitably arise, and it takes honest communication to state the problems so they can be discussed and resolved. Without honesty, conflicts can spiral out of control as one party may begin to consider the other irrational or petty. 

For example, if you and a friend happen to simultaneously have a crush on the same person, it will take honesty to talk about it rather than harbouring resentment for each other.

Honesty is critical to engage in constructive conflict resolution which leads to stronger and more resilient friendships.

Fosters emotional connection:

Being honest in friendship deepens the emotional connection between friends. When friends openly share their thoughts, feelings, and vulnerabilities, it creates a bond of trust and understanding that goes beyond surface-level interactions – it allows them to better understand each other’s perspectives and emotions, fostering a greater sense of empathy and compassion.

Enhances mutual respect:

Friends who lie to friends and claim it was for their own good – saying things like, “I didn’t want to hurt you”, or “I was afraid you won’t understand” – undermine their friend’s intelligence and judgement. When friends are honest with each other, they reaffirm to each other that they respect each other’s intelligence, judgment, and autonomy, as they trust each other to make informed decisions.

For example, suppose a friend is secretly dating a married person, and upon discovering this, you confront them. If their response is that they chose not to disclose it because they believed you wouldn’t understand, it can be perceived as disrespectful or patronising; and rightfully so.

In that situation, your friend has indirectly lied to you and undermined your intelligence and judgement. They have assumed that you are not smart enough to realise that dating a married person is wrong, or that you are not mature enough to handle the truth. They have also denied you the opportunity to offer your support. They are essentially saying that they do not trust you.

It is important to note that a friend may be dishonest for so many (personal) reasons including fear, and may not have the intention to mislead or harm you, but ultimately, being dishonest (even if it’s by keeping quiet) is a choice. And by choosing to be dishonest they have ultimately undermined the trust and foundation of the friendship.

Why Is Honesty Better Than Loyalty or Support In Friendship?

Anyone who isn’t honest with you isn’t loyal to you, and their support can be harmful to you. An honest friend must be willing to offend you and be unafraid to let you know when you’ve offended them. This means they don’t mind losing the friendship if it means telling you the truth (for your own good). An honest friend won’t support you always. In fact, they will actively discourage you from what they think is not good.

A friend who sticks around and encourages you to do whatever it is you’re up to is most likely acting out of self-interest or just stupid. They may be afraid to tell you the truth because it will cost them the friendship and all that comes with it. Or they may have given away their power to think for themselves, which again is not healthy. 

While loyalty and support are important aspects of friendship, honesty takes precedence because it directly impacts your ability to perceive reality accurately and make informed decisions. Without honesty, support and loyalty can easily become misguided or misplaced. 

Honesty in friendship ensures that your commitment to each other is built on a shared understanding of reality, mutual respect, and a genuine concern for each other’s well-being.

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How Do You Build Honesty In a Friendship?

Having understood the importance of honesty in friendship, how do you inculcate and cultivate it in yours? Well, to do that

  • Let your friend know you value honesty and detest dishonesty. You could even form a pact with them by saying something like, “Let’s make a pact to always be truthful with each other, even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable.”
  • Actively listen to your friend’s thoughts and feelings. Take the time to hear them out without jumping on every opportunity to one-up, or cut them off. Ask open-ended questions to encourage them to express themselves fully. For instance, ask questions like, “How are you feeling about this situation? What’s on your mind?”. Then listen.
  • Share your own true experiences, feelings, and even secrets with your friend.
  • Show your trustworthiness by keeping your promises and respecting your friend’s confidentiality. This way, you demonstrate that you are reliable and can be trusted.
  • Avoiding even small lies. For instance, if you’re asked if you like a new haircut which you don’t like. Instead of saying “It’s great”, be honest and say something like, “I think this style doesn’t suit you very much”
  • Encourage your friend to be open about their mistakes. Share your own past mistakes to create an atmosphere where admitting faults is accepted.
  • Ensure your feedback is constructive. Do this by using “I” statements and proffering solutions when you can. For instance, you could say, “I think this colour is a bit dull, why don’t we use pink instead?”.
  • Respect each other’s perspectives, even if you disagree. Try to understand where they are coming from, and when you do and still disagree, you can say something like, “I see where you’re coming from, even though I still think [your opinion] is a better way to approach this matter.”
  • When conflicts arise, address them openly and constructively. Offer a solution-oriented approach, rather than demonising or attacking your friend. Realize that most conflicts are due to misunderstanding, and there is often a compromised or equally beneficial option available. For example, if you can’t agree on a movie to see, perhaps you can agree to play a video game together.
  • Be genuine in your praise and encouragement. When you appreciate something your friend has done, express it honestly, saying, “I’m really proud of the effort you put into this project. It shows your dedication.”. Let them know you value and admire them.

In all, you must understand that your friend is not perfect, and there may be times when they won’t be entirely honest with you. However, it is up to you to keep encouraging them to come plain, mostly by being honest and understanding yourself.

Conclusion: “I Trust You” Is A Better Compliment Than “I Love You”

Have you watched a friend lie to your face? Have you ever been in a situation where you couldn’t be entirely honest with a friend? I’ve been in both situations and I can tell you that it sucks.

It sucks because things could be much better if honesty lead. And, that is why these days I only invest time and energy into relationships in which I know I can be completely honest.

The truth is that it takes a lot of time and effort to cultivate honesty in friendships. It takes adults who have truly grown up to relish such friendship. It takes adults who care about the truth and doing what is right rather than looking perfect and feeling good.

The truth is, no friendship is worth it if you can’t be honest with each other. So, if you’re lucky enough to have a friend who you can trust completely, cherish that friendship. It’s a rare and precious gift.

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