Honesty is a virtue but it can often be taken to a toxic level.
While being honest is important, it is not synonymous with being hurtful.
The term “brutally honest” gets thrown around but it is unnecessary.
Honesty never has to be brutal, and using your honesty as a weapon to hurt others is uncalled for.
That said, you shouldn’t have to compromise your honesty or integrity, either.
There is a way to be both honest and kind, without being brutal and hurtful with your words.
Here are 4 ways to be honest without being brutal:
- Pause and consider your words carefully.There’s the old adage that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Once you say something, you can’t un-say it.
Whether it is in person verbally, in text, or in email—once you’ve said the thing, it’s out there.
That’s why it is important to consider your words carefully before you speak your truth.
You’d be surprised to find how many different ways there are to say the same thing but each version has a slightly different connotation to it.
For example: I don’t want to go with you tonight vs I hate going out on Fridays vs I don’t want to go out tonight vs I don’t feel up to going out vs I’m tired and would rather stay in tonight.See how all of those convey the same idea: I want to stay home, but some are meaner than others in the way they communicate that.
The first one implies that the reason I don’t want to go out is because of the other person.
The second implies it’s because of the day in question, while the last three are more simple and clear in that I just don’t feel like going out.
The last three are the better versions to go with because they are clear in their statement and don’t leave a lot of room for confusion while also don’t place blame on anyone or anything.
They are victimless in their honesty and therefore, not brutal.
- Acknowledge the other person’s feelings.What makes honesty the most brutal is when you steamroll over someone else’s feelings or experience.
Acknowledge their emotions and validate what they are feeling while being honest with them.
This will go a long way in maintaining your empathy without compromising your integrity.
For example: if your friend is being very stubborn and made a wrong conclusion about a situation tell them: I understand that you’re frustrated and I can see how you made the connection you made but I think you made a judgment prematurely.From my perspective, the situation seems to be this…
Acknowledging their feelings will soften the blow and also give them reason to listen to you and what you’re offering.
If you just brutally rip them apart and tell them “you’re completely wrong, how did you think that was possible?
Are you blind?
It’s clearly this…” they will shut down and not hear you even if you are right.
- Be honest if it’s something they need to hear.When you know your honesty might be hard to hear and might cause some disappointment or pain, evaluate whether or not they actually need to hear it.
Not every situation requires your feedback or honesty.
Sometimes a person is aware they are being unreasonable and are just emotionally upset and need to vent.
Other times, your opinion doesn’t factor in at all because it’s not about you and they didn’t ask for it.
For example: your friend or partner has had a bad day at work and they are complaining to you about how Karen and Greg never do anything and pawn their work off and they really dislike them and think they are awful people.
Obviously, your friend/partner is having and emotional release and is venting.
They probably don’t really think Karen and Greg are awful people, but you cutting them off to remind them of that mid-vent isn’t helping.
Exception: if they start going off the deep end and really saying things you know they don’t mean that are hurtful and cruel, that might be a good time to jump in and stop the spiraling.
A great tool to discern if your friend/partner is just venting or looking for your honest opinion on the matter is to ask them.
When they start the conversation, ask them if they are just venting and would like you to listen or if they want you to provide a perspective.
That way, you’ll know how to best contribute.
Another example: a situation where your honesty is not needed might be your friend has chosen their wedding colors to be pink and brown and you think brown is an awful color.
You don’t need to tell them that you think their wedding colors are ugly.
It’s not about what you think in this situation.
Exception: if your friend is trying to choose colors and asks for your opinion about a pink and brown combination.
In that case, they want your opinion and are asking for it so you should offer it.
Of course, don’t be mean and tell them that you think that it is a disgusting combination, tell them that you don’t think brown makes a good wedding color and tell them what combination you think is better from their options.
- Offer a solution.Brutal honesty tends to just tear the person down.
Being honest with kindness means choosing your words, acknowledging their feelings, and offering a solution.
Your honesty should be constructive when possible.
Tell them your honesty, then offer a solution to the situation.
For example: your friend wants to see you but they only ever want to go out to the bar and you don’t like doing that.Be honest with them, tell them, “I don’t like going out to bars any more.
It’s not fun for me.
I want to see you, so what if we did this instead…” and offer an alternative that you both would be interested in doing and would find enjoyable.
- Don’t use clichés as filler or support to “soften” your honesty.We’ve all heard them.
Hollywood mocks them.
There are dozens of clichés that are crafted to soften your honesty and make the other person feel better about what you’re saying.
The truth is, though, that whenever you use these you’re actually making it worse.
They’re clichés for a reason: everyone knows them.
Which means the person you’re talking to has, too.
What you tell them when you use clichés is that you couldn’t be bothered to care enough to actually say what you’re feeling outright.
Again, choosing your words carefully matters, but being honest without the clichés is less brutal than using them.
For example: if you are breaking up with someone, don’t use the “it’s not you it’s me” line.That hurts more than if you speak your truth with kindness.
Tell them, “I just don’t think we have enough common interests,” “I don’t feel a spark,” “this isn’t going the direction I’m looking to go,” or whatever your truth is.
Just using a cliché doesn’t actually tell them anything.
It just tells them that you’re dumping them and they don’t know what they did wrong.
Being honest allows closure because then they know why things ended.
Being honest is a virtue, but being brutal isn’t.
“Brutal honesty” isn’t true honesty because the truth should never be cruel.
Using these techniques, you can still speak your truth and honor your integrity without being mean or cruel to the other person.
The truth should be said, but it should be said with kindness.