Honesty vs. Disclosure

What is the difference between Honesty and Disclosure?  And, what is my advice related to them?  This is a question I am often asked by clients. 

In my last blog entry, I discussed the pros and cons of disclosure, and strategies for managing the risks while increasing the returns.  Connected to this point, many people have questions about how "honest" to be in negotiation.  Here are my thoughts:

HONESTY IS NOT THE SAME AS FULL DISCLOSURE.  This is the first important point to make here. Let's begin with some DEFINITIONS: HONESTY: Telling the truth; not misrepresenting the facts when asked about something. FULL DISCLOSURE: Disclosing everything there is to say about a certain subject, or your views, etc.

How much disclosure is appropriate? 

This is a relative question.  More disclosure is generally encouraged (especially in ongoing relationships), and, sometimes the line between the two can get very narrow in terms of its potential impact on trust, and therefore on your ability to produce good outcomes with each other.  For me, there are two key questions to consider in deciding whether or not to disclose something:

  1. Could there be a negative impact on this person in the negotiation if I do not disclose it, and;
  2. Do I think the absence of the information would have a material impact on the person's choice. 

If the answer to either one of these questions is "yes", then I think it is in your interest to disclose the information.  Even if the moral argument for doing so is not compelling to you, I think it is worth your while even from a selfish perspective.  Why?  Because in many cases, the person will discover the information later.  And, if either of the above conditions existed, your credibility and trustworthiness will be damaged, and thus, your ability to negotiate with them and produce good agreements, not to mention your very ability to be persuasive. 

How honest should I be?  Is telling the truth always a good idea? 

Regarding Honesty: I recommend it strongly.  Lying tends to come back to haunt you, and then carries a high cost.  What you lose is (a) your ability to persuade – your credibility; and (b) your ability to produce ANY agreement is significantly reduced.  Is telling the truth always a good idea?  No, it isn't necessarily, because sometimes the truth can be hurtful to the other party, or can expose you to considerable risk.  In that case, I recommend choosing not to disclose, rather than lying outright.  It is better to say, "I am not comfortable disclosing that information", than to tell a lie.  

Feel free to chime in with a comment if you'd like.  Feedback is very helpful.

Comments

  1. John Burgoon says:

    This is a concept that is crucial to me personally. Exactly these issues caused my divorce to my first wife, and they continue to be important to me in my relationships with my children.

    What I find astonishing is that this concept is not self-evident. I have struggled for years to explain it to my close friends and family. Thank you for putting this into words in such a brief, clear manner. I sent the article to a few different people in my life so that they will understand my own beliefs.

    The hard part, of course, is in determining when and how far to go with disclosure. But I can tell you that some folks deliberately continue misleading behavior in spite of all objections, and eventually I feel I have no discourse but to distance myself from those people. A follow up article on tactful ways to explain this position, especially in the face of repeated behavior, would be welcome.

    Best regards from Indiana,
    John

    • Peter says:

      Hello John,

      Ah, Indiana – a lovely place with many warm, down-to-earth people. Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. I’m delighted to see that something I wrote over 6 years ago now still is providing something useful. I’m very sorry to hear about your divorce – I imagine it was painful. On the positive side, I am happy to hear that you hold yourself to a standard of truthfulness and that you do your best to model that behaviour with your children. This is a challenge for all of us. While it takes courage and discipline, I believe being truthful is very freeing. I am so happy to hear that this blog post explained the principles around honesty and disclosure in a useful way for you.

      Your suggestion about a follow-up article is a good one. I will consider it and may in fact write something in that regard in the coming month.

      Kind regards from Toronto,
      Peter.

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