Sincerity v Honesty

I can’t remember how long ago it was at work, although I have previously alluded to this story on this here blog.

I’d done some work how I thought it should be done which, alas, was not the correct way.  I received a less than complimentary reply of what I should have done not just technically on the work, but more generally in asking for help.

The tone of the e-mail bugged me, because people generally don’t ask for help when they don’t think they need it.  It also bugged me because help / explanation wasn’t offered proactively which is an absolute requirement for effective delegation.

But what bugged me more was that I was copied, presumably in error, on a previous e-mail to my manager in which someone else’s manager threatened the need to, not necessarily discipline me but that sort of thing if the work was not done in time.  I’d failed to read another e-mail asking for my progress sent mere working hours before that other e-mail which ended “I hope it doesn’t come to that”.

I replied after a good few hours consideration and the usual five iterations of the e-mail.

Dear *****,

Thank you for constructive feedback.  I trust that a similar level of feedback has been provided to all parties involved with this piece of work to avoid [further instances of the problems that this has caused, even though I still hit all my deadlines and didn’t hold the project back]…

I was pulled in to a room the following week and told by my boss that my reply was inappropriate.  I explained my side of the story (which has had a lot more weight added to it since) and that I didn’t appreciate the passive aggressive nature of “I hope it doesn’t come to that”.

“Do you not think your e-mail was passive aggressive?”

“That depends very much on the sincerity with which you think I thanked him for the feedback,” was my response, ignoring the fact that my reply shouldn’t negate the tone of the original.

So it’s actually pretty interesting thinking about sincerity.  When you read up on it, a lot of people talk about judging sincerity of a comment based on other character traits of the person talking.  Some compliments have the ability to micro-manage, even manipulate, the actions of others.  Other people who are regularly honest are also seen as being sincere.

There is only really a subtle difference in my book between honesty and sincerity and that difference is actually highlighted by the etymology of the latter.  The word “sincere” comes from the Latin “sincerus”, which means “pure” or “clean”.  While honesty and sincerity are close, an honest comment doesn’t always have to be pure; it can, in fact, be quite a harmful truth.  Sincerity, to me, infers a positive action.

In my reply e-mail, I was being honest.  I did phrase it purposefully to give me that way to disclaim negative intentions. I was also being sincere, though, because there were genuinely other things that could have been done better.  But it is still interesting that people will infer sincerity, or lack thereof, based on previous events.  Maybe that says more about their actions than anyone else’s.

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