We all know how important honesty is, yet we also know how uncomfortable it can be to be honest with someone when you know they don’t want to hear what you have to say.
Unfortunately, discomfort all too often overrides our desire to be honest and we sugarcoat the message or don’t deliver it at all. What we don’t consider is what the implications will be for that person’s future.
I may be more aware of this than many because people pay me as a part of my consulting and coaching work to be honest with them…to help them avoid future problems. That requires that I be honest with them even when it’s painful for them to hear.
Honesty, not brutality
Another often overlooked aspect of honesty is that honesty can be encouraging. When I have to deliver messages I know people don’t want to hear, I take some time before delivering the message.
I think about how I can structure the message so that I can state facts without using language that could be perceived as judgmental. Or, better yet, how I can ask questions that will enable the person to see the kinds of problems that are being created by what they’re currently doing or saying.
What I’ve experienced is that when I’m being honest, making a good faith effort to be factual and not judgmental and am sincerely interested in the other person’s welfare, they rarely take offense to what I’m saying. It’s even more rare when I use questions that lead them to the discovery of the source of their problem.
When you find yourself in a situation that requires you to be honest with someone with a message they might not like to hear, use the following steps:
- Pause. Anything you’re likely to say in the moment is likely to create resistance and resentment.
- Take a few hours, or days if needed, to make sure that you’re messaging is not judgmental.
- Don’t be afraid that you’ll miss a window of opportunity…the door may seem closed, but it’s rarely locked. You can reopen it at any time you like. Simply say “I noticed something that I think might help you avoid (whatever) in the future.”
- If the other person becomes defensive, don’t allow yourself to become defensive as well.
- Instead let the person know that it was just an observation that you thought might help, but that it’s entirely up to them whether or not to do what you suggest.
- Regardless of the person’s reaction, don’t continue to make or reiterate the point, let it rest. Usually we need some time to think about what we’ve been told and we need to do that thinking privately to come around to the new way of thinking.
For our kids
Use the above list to help your kids understand how to be confident while being honest. Help them understand that a failure to do so may have devastating effects for the other person.
Most importantly, live the message. Kids monitor adult behaviors and mimic those they see working well for the adult.