23 Things It's OK to Tell Healthy Little White Lies About, According to Experts
Sometimes, a little white lie can save you a ton of trouble.
It's an adage you've likely heard a thousand times: "Honesty is the best policy." And while there are many situations in which that's the truth—at the doctor's office or when filling out that mortgage application, for instance—there are countless others when avoiding the absolute truth is better for everyone involved. Yes, sometimes a little white lie goes a long way.
"When we feel compelled to tell the 'absolute truth,' we are actually acting from arrogance rather than kindness," says psychologist Elisa Robyn, PhD, a relationship and career transitions specialist in Arvada, Colorado. As Erin Hinek, LPC, head of group practice Fleurish Psychotherapy in Atlanta, Georgia, points out, "We often feel the urge to tell these secrets or insights because it feels good to us in the short-term, but disclosing may ultimately lead to damaging our relationships."
So, before you accidentally burn a bridge with a close friend or set yourself up for professional failure, make sure you know these instances in which you're better off not being honest. And for more things you should never utter, check out these 17 Things Polite People Never Say.
When you hate a gift
That sweater your grandma knitted you may have so many sequins and pom poms on it that you feel dizzy just looking at it. But does that mean you need to need to drop your honest feelings on Nana? Definitely not.
"It may be best to smile and thank the gift-giver anyway," says Hinek. In general, it's easier to just "graciously accept the gift, especially if the relationship is important to you," she explains.
How you feel about someone's parenting style
Your friend's decision to cloth diaper, homeschool, or anoint their kids with crystals on the full moon may seem strange to you, but the odds they want to hear your opinion on those practices? Slim to none. Raising kids is hard enough as it is, and most parents are just trying to do keep everyone happy and healthy at the end of the day, not get the seal of approval from every well-intentioned friend or family member.
"Parenting is personal and criticizing a parent's choice is not necessarily going to make them feel open to receiving your opinion," explains Hinek. Unless what they're doing presents an immediate danger, Hinek says it's usually best to just keep those opinions to yourself. And for more things to avoid saying around parents, here are the 23 Worst Things You Can Say to a New Parent.
If you have a favorite child
While parents may have a closer relationship with one of their children at certain moments in their lives, telling them as much is never going to work out well in the long run. According to Robyn, doing so will potentially stoke some serious sibling rivalry. And on top of that, letting a child know they're not your favorite is more likely to make them retreat from a parent they already see as unloving or dismissive, not work harder to earn your affection. And for fibs parents tend to tell, here are the 17 Biggest Lies Teachers Always Tell Parents.
How cute you think someone else's baby is
When someone asks, "Isn't my baby the cutest?" know that there's never an acceptable answer other than, "Of course!" You may think that newborn pales in comparison to your precious little ones, or you might just not like kids to begin with, but there's not a parent in the world who wants to hear your hot takes on their baby's appearance.
"All babies are beautiful in some way," says Robyn. "Sharing that beauty with the new parent supports them through a stressful transition."
Your professional weaknesses
When an interviewer asks "What are your greatest weaknesses?" take it as an opportunity to make yourself look good. Letting them know that you have a problem with time management or took one too many pens home from your last job is unlikely to have positive results in the long run.
"Disclosing too much may come back to bite you by casting you in a negative light to the interviewer," says Hinek. "It's important to strike a balance between your objective of getting the job and your self-respect in wanting to be open and honest." And for more lies people tell while trying to get a new gig, here are 30 Lies Everyone Tells During a Job Interview.
When you think your boss is doing a bad job
Telling your coworkers how incompetent you think your boss is will rarely have positive results. "Telling the truth at work can come back and haunt us," says Robyn. "At some point, we might hear that the leadership is aware that we are unhappy with them and in turn wonder if we are a good fit for the company."
When you think you're smarter than your coworkers
Everyone has coworkers who drop the ball or generally don't pull their weight at work. However, even if your inclination is to share how much better you think you are at your job than others, you'd be wise to keep those feelings to yourself. "Often, when we think we are building a reputation of telling the truth, we are actually building a reputation of being a complainer," says Robyn.
Also, while you may think that your intelligence or technical skills should help you move up the ranks faster in your company, those may not even be among the most important qualities to your employer. In fact, according to a 2019 survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers ranked teamwork above professionalism, leadership, or career management competencies in terms of the skills they valued most in employees.
Your reasons for wanting a job
Odds are that you need a job for one simple reason: to help foot your bills. However, whether you're looking for a new job or are hoping to score a promotion, a little fibbing about why you want a position can yield major benefits.
A well-placed, "I want to be with this company for the next 10 years" or "Data entry has always been my passion" will be a lot more well-received than, "I need a paycheck so I don't get evicted." And for more on behavior to keep out of the workplace, check out these 30 Things You Should Never Do at Work.
Any negative feelings about someone's exciting news
The new job your friend landed may not seem that exciting to you, you may think your coworker isn't financially ready to have a baby, or you might just think that your spouse finally beating their high score in The Legend of Zelda isn't that big a deal. Does that mean they need to hear your opinion about their news? Absolutely not.
"Be cautious of being that person who always rains on other people's parades," says Adina Mahalli, a certified mental health expert and family therapist for Maple Holistics. "When someone has exciting news for you and you have bad news to share in that realm…keep your honesty to yourself."
Your negative opinions about someone's appearance
There are few things that can lose you friends faster than being known as someone who snarks on other people's appearance. When a friend asks, "Do I look like I've gained weight?" they're looking for validation, not honesty.
Even if someone asks for your input, "this does not mean that you can ask when [your friend] put on so much weight," says Mahalli. If your friend keeps pressing for an opinion, Mahalli suggests directing them to a style that might look more flattering instead—but always go into it recognizing that sharing any opinion that's not entirely positive could lead to long term damage to your relationship.
Your negative opinions about someone else's spouse
So, you think your friend's spouse is rude, their appearance could use some sprucing up, and their career is going nowhere. When's the appropriate time to take your pal aside and spill the truth? Never, according to Wyatt Fisher, a licensed clinical psychologist and marriage counselor in Boulder, Colorado. "If you don't really care for your friend's spouse yet they seem happily married, keep your opinions to yourself," he says… Or you may risk losing that friendship.
When you don't care about something your partner's passionate about
Being in a relationship doesn't have to mean adoring everything your partner's into. That said, if a habit or hobby of theirs isn't your thing but doesn't otherwise negatively affect your relationship, keep that brutal honesty to yourself. Robyn notes that being brutally honest in such a situation is likely to push your loved one away, potentially leading to your exclusion from those activities you do enjoy sharing with them, too.
Whether or not you find your spouse's friends attractive
It's nice to imagine that your significant other is the only person you'll ever be attracted to again. It's also unlikely. However, if they ask if you think their friend is attractive, keeping the peace is more important than telling the truth.
"You need to weigh out how much the lie would benefit a person or a relationship versus how fessing up to the truth might be irrevocably harmful," says psychotherapist Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW, who's based in southwestern Florida.
When you have a crush
Similarly, while having a crush on someone may be fun, if you or the object of your affection are in relationships or you know the flirtation will never lead anywhere, it's best to keep those thoughts to yourself. When it comes to divulging this kind of information, "the general rule is that less is more," according to Mahalli.
She says that, unless your crush asks you point blank if you have feelings for them—and you have the kind of relationship where it would be appropriate to divulge that information—it's best to stay mum.
Your petty problems with your in-laws
"No matter how frustrating, annoying, or overbearing your partner's family might be, your partner isn't the person to complain about it to," says Mahalli, who notes that bringing up minor grievances with your partner's parents "means that you're probably asking for an argument."
Unless it's something that truly needs to be remedied, like in the case of someone being cruel or abusive to you or your spouse, it's better to find a friend to complain about your mother-in-law's pronunciation of "espresso" to than to cause unnecessary tension in your relationship.
Why you're not closer with someone
We all have those relationships where, for one reason or another, we just can't seem to find common ground with someone. While there's no need to forge a friendship with someone you can't see eye-to-eye with, keeping your feelings about why you're not friends to yourself is likely in your best interest. In many cases, a little white lie about not knowing that person particularly well instead of a tirade about their character flaws is a better bet.
Bay Area clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, suggests that you "limit the length of intersections with certain people, choose settings that are less intensive, and take short breaks during interactions."
How you rank your friends, exes, or bosses
We all have some friends we're closer with than others. Some of us have exes who were more romantic than our current partners. And some of us don't really think our boss is the best one we've ever had, despite that mug we got them that suggests otherwise.
But does that mean we need to tell them? Absolutely not. Letting someone—whether it's a friend, partner, or colleague—know where they fall on your personal ranking system will only cause them pain if they don't occupy the top spot.
Your friends' negative opinions of other people
Sometimes, your friends and your significant other just aren't going to get along, and for the most part, that's OK. That said, nobody likes to hear when other people don't like them, hate their clothes, or think they cheat at Scrabble. If there's an issue you can help mend between the members of your inner circle, by all means, do so. However, if telling the truth just means you're going to hurt someone's feelings and offer no resolution, spare them the pain.
Why you don't want to hang out with someone
Sometimes, having a fully-booked weekend seems like a lot of fun. Other times, it's a nightmare. And unfortunately, many people hear, "I'm just not up for it" as "I just don't want to spend time with you," when you have to back out of plans.
If you're feeling stressed out by the idea of canceling, but don't feel like you have any other option, a little white lie about feeling under the weather can help protect your friend's feelings without causing you undue stress about an impending argument.
When you check up on exes on social media
If you're like most people, odds are, you've checked in on an ex online. In fact, a 2017 study from SuperDrug revealed that 61 percent of married American study subjects checked out their ex online at least once a month. And while that practice might not be ideal, coming clean about the occasional glance at a former partner's social media presence certainly won't do you much good, either. If you're not actually reaching out to your ex, there's no harm in telling your current partner that you don't know what's up with them.
The intimate details of your past relationships
Conveniently neglecting to tell your partner that you've been married before probably doesn't bode well for you in the long run. That said, omitting some of the more intimate details of your previous relationships may actually be a good thing.
Comparing your past relationships to your current one can be a major blow to your partner's self-esteem, and once you've revealed all those personal details, they can't be so easily unheard.
When someone isn't as talented as they think
If your tone-deaf friend is planning on quitting their job to start a career in showbiz, it may be wise to gently warn them against it. However, if your friend couldn't quite hit the high notes on "I Will Always Love You" at karaoke, it's not your duty to tell them.
"If the truth is only going to be hurtful, we should ask ourselves why we feel the need to share it," says Robyn, who notes that telling someone they did poorly during a meaningful performance could cause them enough shame to leave that passion behind entirely.
Your personal reasons behind your tardiness
While it's not exactly polite to leave your friends or coworkers waiting, that doesn't mean you need to divulge the exact reason why you're running behind schedule. Your friends don't want to hear that your dog threw up your Beauty Blender and it's not exactly appropriate to let your boss know that you were running late because you and your spouse don't see eye-to-eye about where to spend the holidays. Usually, it's best to simply apologize for your tardiness and move on.