What are the dangers of being an “open book”—being too honest about your feelings, beliefs, and intentions? How can excessive honesty work against you?
People tend to be “open books” because talking about feelings and intentions comes naturally. There are two reasons for that: 1) watching your mouth — monitoring and controlling what you say—takes effort, and 2) they believe honesty and openness will win people over.
Here’s how being too honest can work against you.
The Disadvantages of Honesty
Many people wear their feelings on their sleeves. And when it comes to plans and intentions, they’re quick to tell all at the slightest provocation. But being too honest can work against you.
Always hide your true intentions. If you keep people off-balance and in the dark, they can’t counter your efforts. Send them down the wrong path with a decoy and by the time they realize what you’re up to, it will be too late for them to interfere.
To deceive people about your real intentions, take preemptive action to mislead by using decoys and red herrings. Use tools such as fake sincerity, ambiguity, and lures—and people won’t be able to differentiate the genuine from the false to see your goal.
However, honesty has distinct downsides:
Rather than being an appealing characteristic, honesty is likely to offend people. It’s often better to tell people what they want to hear rather than the less flattering truth.
If you’re totally honest and open, people won’t respect or fear you because you’ll be predictable (to wield power, you need others’ respect and fear).
In contrast, you can gain and maintain the upper hand by hiding your intentions. Fortunately, hiding your intentions is easy because it’s human nature to trust appearances; the alternative of doubting the reality of what you see and hear — imagining there’s always something else behind it — is too exhausting.
So present a decoy or red herring like Otto von Bismarck — something phony that’s intended to attract attention and thus mislead — and people will take the appearance for reality, and won’t notice what you’re really doing.
Conversely, you can pretend to want something you’re not actually interested in, like Otto von Bismarck, and your opponents will be confused and miscalculated.
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