Sometimes you hear something that sticks. A sentance that strikes a cord and makes your insides feel a bit funny. That sits with you and keeps floating up to the top of your thoughts…
This happened recently when Tobias Mayer was talking about speaking truth to power, so with his agreement and input I’ve tried to articulate it in this post.
Now, before revealing the full details of what was said, (spoiler alert – it’s partially in the title!) I’ve always though that honesty was OK. If it’s true then it’s totally fine to say it, even if it might not be what the person wants to hear. However, I have also been accused on a consistent basis throughout my childhood and adult life of putting my foot in it. Of upsetting someone by stating something that didn’t need to be stated. Of being insensitive.
I see this in my kids too, when they enjoy telling each other their breath smells, or that they have body odour. When I highlight what they said and invite them to consider the impact on their sibling then their typical response is “I’m just being honest” and they clearly have a sense that because of that it’s ok.
But – when you don’t fully consider the other person, and the impact of presenting your version of the truth on them, your words can be upsetting, damage the relationship and ultimately be a show of violence.
Sound a bit dramatic? Consider this – what’s more important in life than your human connections and relationships? Is there any part of your life that isn’t affected by these?
In the workshop Tobias went on to suggest these 3 questions to consider before ‘being honest’:
1. Is it true? Sounds obvious, but pausing to gain this clarity in your mind is helpful.
I’ve previously written about ‘Your truth is not my truth, but they are both true (partially)’. It's a reminder that what you believe to be true may be different to what the other person believes to be true. When playing something back, you could articulate this with openers such as “my interpretation of this was…” or “how I perceived that was…”.
Another consideration here is being authentic and not agreeing with or presenting a version of the truth that you don’t hold in your own heart (or in plain English – bullshitting – people can smell it a mile off).
2. Is it kind?
This isn’t just about saying something nice. It’s a common misconception that nice and kind go hand in hand. Far from it.
Niceness can gloss over the truth, keeps things on the surface, avoid disturbing the status quo. Kindness won’t necessarily do any of those things. Kindness comes from a place of compassion, and to be compassionate sometimes means confrontation. You can confront from a place of kindness, but not from a place of niceness—they’re incompatible.
To figure out if something is kind before you speak it, think of the opposite: being hurtful, spiteful, disparaging, humiliating, mocking, leveraging another’s weakness for your benefit, keeping someone down, in their place, etc. etc.
If it feels like one of those things, keep it to yourself. But if you believe it might increase their understanding of a situation, help them handle conversations in a more productive way next time round, or raise their self-awareness of something, then don’t be afraid to offer your (compassionate) insights.
3. Is it necessary?
Is sharing your thoughts or feelings in a given situation actually required? How is it going to impact the given context? You may have observed something that is true and kind, but unnecessary in that it would detract from the situation / conversation rather than enrich it. Maybe there is different time and place to share what’s on your mind. Considering if it’s helpful or not can play into this.
Now the trick here is to look at these questions holistically and not in isolation. If it is true, but not kind or necessary, then what value does that give? Similarly, what’s the impact of being kind, but inauthentic? You get the idea, you should be able to tick more than one of these boxes before ‘being honest’.
On reflection, and after practising this for a couple of months, I’ve added one of my own questions to this list.
Do you have permission?
Sometimes you have something to say that is true, kind and necessary, but falls on deaf ears and is received with a shrug of the shoulders or a glare. Why? Because the other person was not open to receive the feedback, or to have the conversation.
So depending on my relationship with the person and my sense of the situation, I simply ask “would you like some feedback?” or “I made some observations about that situation, would you like me to share them?”, or even – “I don’t agree – can we talk about why?”.
Human relationships are the most complex things we have to navigate in ours lives. We need to treat them with respect and care. To be willing to nurture them, and to carefully consider the impact of our words on others.
I invite you to pause the next time you feel the desire to state your opinion, to run through this short list of questions and see what impact it has. If you do try, I’d love to know about your experiences. Please share in the comments or reach out to me directly.