At work one day, while cutting through the room where my boss was interviewing a bookkeeper, I heard the question we’re asked at every job interview:
“What’s your weakness?”
Does anyone answer that question honestly?
“Well, I’m always late for work, and I’m a slob. I’m a hoarder, too, so my desk will be a mess. Oh, and I like to read books when I should be working. And text friends. And surf the ‘net. And take personal calls. And naps. That’s about it.”
The bookkeeper answered:
“I have a hard time working for a place where I don’t feel appreciated.”
Good answer! I thought, and then, wait, wanting to be appreciated is a weakness? Isn’t that a right?
How about this answer:
“I like to be paid on time.”
It got me to thinking: in what other situations do we avoid honesty? What if we just said it like it is?
“Do you take this man to be your lawful married husband, for better or for worse—”
“Can you define ‘worse’?”
Or how about this classic:
“Does this dress make me look fat?”
“Uh, yeah. Pretty much.”
Okay, so blunt honesty isn’t particularly nice.
“What’s my weakness? I’m honest to a fault. That tie you’re wearing makes you look like a doofus. When do I start?”
We’re told to be honest, but along with that expectation comes the understanding that if you can’t be nice, then lie. Or deflect.
“That dress? What a lovely shade! It brings out the blue in your eyes.”
Maybe there’s a middle ground for honesty. Something that’s not too honest,
“I have low self-esteem, because I’m one of twelve children and my parents ignored me.”
…or not honest enough,
“My weakness? I’d rather not answer that question.”
…but just right,
“That dress isn’t quite as flattering on you as the green one.”
“My weakness? Not having a prepared answer for that question.”
Our degree of honesty depends on our relationships. We’re blunt with spouses and family members, but not with co-workers or strangers. Why? Because we know our loved ones have signed on “for better or for worse,” but a stranger might want nothing more to do with us.
So we lie to be liked.
Or to be president.
We just don’t call them lies.
We call them alternative facts. Because we can’t even be honest about lying.
I appreciate honesty. It builds trust. On the other hand, if honesty reveals a psychotic personality, how much trust can I muster?
There’s vulnerability in being honest. We risk losing respect when we admit, “I don’t know, I’m wrong, I made a mistake.” But when we lie to ourselves, we’ve lost something far more valuable.
Better to speak our truth,
“I really don’t like working with numbers. But I need this job, and don’t believe there’s something else out there, or something I can get, so I’m willing to settle. That’s my weakness.”
…just not in the job interview. At home, in front of the mirror, looking ourself dead in the eyes.