Candid, Not Brutal

If you want to develop long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships you must be candid, not brutal, in your communications. Before we get into a discussion of how to do that, let’s make sure we’re all working with the same definitions of candid and brutal.


Candid communications are:

  • Honest
  • Caring
  • Encouraging

What you tell a person must be your honest assessment of their situation, ideas or behaviors. You cannot sugarcoat or attempt to soften the impact of what you’re about to say. To do either of these is too imply that the person isn’t strong enough to hear and deal with the truth. 

Any attempt to lessen the impact of what you’re going to say risks dampening the message to the point that the person underestimates the importance of what you have to say, resulting in their dismissal of your comments…to their detriment.


Candid messages must be delivered in a caring tone or you risk creating defensiveness on the part of the person you’re trying to help. People are less likely to become defensive when they sense that you’re trying to help them.

You’ll know that you’ve been successful in delivering a candid message in a caring tone when the person asks “Do I really do that?’ or “What makes you say that?” Both questions indicate that your message created an openness that enables you to help the person in a meaningful way.


Since candid conversations by their very nature, indicate that the listener needs to change in some way, it’s important that your message be encouraging. The message must express your belief that the person is one who wants to know how they can improve on their considerable skills.

You may also need to express your honest belief that they can effect the change when they have doubts about their ability to do so. 

Let’s contrast these elements of a candid conversation with one that’s brutal.


Brutal communications, while they may be honest, denigrate and discourage the person. The result of a brutal communication is the diminishment of the person’s sense of self-worth and an assertion that the person will always be inferior.  

While some brutal communications may be intentionally brutal, more often than not they are the result of an emotional reaction to what the person said or did. Some brutal communications result from an unintentional, poor choice of words; their impact is no less hurtful because they were unintentional.

How do we assure that our communications are candid, not brutal?

For you

When you feel the need to have a candid conversation with a person, wait until:

  • Your emotions subside.
  • You can clearly identify the message you want to deliver.
  • You are sure that the language you intend to use contains all three elements of a candid conversation: honesty, caring and encouraging.
  • You and the person whom you intend to help are alone or with just one other person whom they know cares about their success.

You’ll not only feel better about having the conversation because you know that your message is intended to be helpful and encouraging, the person receiving your message is highly likely to sense the caring nature of your candid comments and appreciate what you’re trying to do for them. If so, you’ll avoid the defensiveness that normally accompany less carefully-crafted messages.

Candid conversations don’t assure that you won’t get resistance. I recall having told a friend that she had a chip on her shoulder. She denied it, then looked at her partner and asked “Do I have a chip on my shoulder?” [note the openness in that question despite her skepticism]. Her partner assured her that she did indeed have a chip on her shoulder.

You now have the tools, outlined above, for having candid conversations with people…which I consider a responsibility I have to all with whom I meet. That doesn’t mean I’m always right in my assessment, but it does mean that I care enough to take the time to craft messages that I believe will benefit the other party. And I expect the same from them.

When I find that my assessment is wrong, I quickly acknowledge that fact and apologize for my mistake. I find that people are very forgiving in these situations because they know that I cared enough to try to help them even though I was mistaken.

For our kids

From early childhood through our teens, we are learning how to interact with others. During these years we make many of the same mistakes that generations before us made in their formative years.

As you see the kids in your life struggle in their interactions with others, share with them the steps outlined above so that they can learn to be candid, not brutal, in their dealings with others. They’ll quickly learn to deal with difficult situations and difficult people effectively at an early age and avoid the pain associated with a protracted learning curve. They’ll be eternally grateful to you for having taught them this lesson.

They’ll also become genuinely caring, encouraging individuals…something that will benefit all of society for generations to come.

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2 Responses

  1. Bill Prenatt

    Dale, As always great thought-provoking topic!

    I don’t know where I picked this idea up, but your article brought it to my mind…”Be hard on the issue and soft on the people” I find that following this guideline keeps me being candid but not destroying the other person’s self-esteem.

    Keep up the great work!

    • dfurtwengler

      “Be hard on the issue, soft on the people.” What a great way to express the candid, not brutal message. Thanks for sharing it, Bill.

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