At the beginning of this school year, I felt like most people in my social circles, including myself, were not communicating as effectively as possible. I found it common to be in arguments with friends, thinking I knew all the reasons they were upset with me, only to find that they had mentioned a completely different reason to a mutual friend behind my back. I found that I really preferred to have all the information as to why someone was upset with me, or why they were making decisions, yet many people still selectively filtered their words in communication. Filtering makes complete sense, but despite this, I was still upset that it was bogging down communication.
While talking about this, a friend pointed me towards I Think You’re Fat by AJ Jacobs, an article detailing the journalist’s experience practicing “Radical Honesty.” Radical Honesty is a social and lifestyle movement in which practitioners do not filter their thoughts whatsoever. If a friend bakes you a cake, and you take a bite and it tastes awful, you say that. There are no exceptions, or, as the creator of the movement says more blatantly: “If you’re having fantasies about your wife’s sister, Blanton says to tell your wife and tell her sister. It’s the only path to authentic relationships. It’s the only way to smash through modernity’s soul-deadening alienation. Oversharing? No such thing.”
At first, this concept seemed far too radical for me, but as I mulled it over, I wanted to try it out. I felt like I spent too much time shaping my feedback for others in hopes of not hurting them, or restricting my feelings when others asked me to share them. I hoped radical honesty would fix both of these problems, so in September, I attempted to follow radical honesty.
At first I was quite comfortable with following radical honesty; it felt good to get things off my chest and the explanation of radical honesty provided me with some mental shield that made speaking my true opinion much easier than beforehand. Quickly though, the practice became quite uncomfortable when I was presented with questions I didn’t want to answer honestly: a close friend asking me my honest opinions on a mutual friend, or my thoughts on their essay. I tried my best to answer those questions honestly, but felt the metaphorical shield of radical honesty get ripped to shreds. If I call my friend’s essay garbage, they have every right to be mad at me, and the fact that I’m being “radically honest” doesn’t remove any of their justified anger. These experiences shifted my opinion on radical honesty, as I realized it gave me an excuse to be unusually blunt to people in a world where most people are quite careful with their words. This ultimately made me come off as just mean.
Radical Honesty may work in theory if everyone in a set environment agrees to it, but when used in a culture where you are expected to dampen your true opinion, it instead comes off as too abrasive. Upset with this conclusion yet still wanting to improve communication, I researched further and ultimately found Crocker’s Rules. Crocker’s Rules work almost as the inverse of Radical Honesty, in which practitioners ask others to not hold back any information; effectively asking everyone you engage with to be radically honest with you. This doesn’t entitle you to be bluntly honest with them; instead, you consent to receive unfiltered information from them in the hope of speeding up communication. This is somewhat exploitable, as people can be extremely mean to your face, and this has to be expected under the rule set. Despite this, I still tried to practice Crocker’s rules.
Crocker’s rules were a bit logistically harder to practice compared to radical honesty, as you have to share this paradigm with everyone you interact with, but I tried to work through it. Sadly, after a few weeks of using Crocker’s rules, I still was not having more efficient conversations, as it seemed like my friends were holding back (or just forgetting that I was working under this rule set). I eventually stopped telling people I was always engaged in Crocker’s rules, and let it be.
Though both of these endeavors fell short of their promise, I still felt like they fostered more productive conversations with friends. This has mainly occurred through a shared investment in resolving tensions peacefully, as opposed to religiously obeying some esoteric communication protocol. Approaching conversations with a clear intent to reach a mutual understanding, as opposed to winning an argument, seems to garner equal sympathy and effort from others, so that is what I’d recommend.