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May 13, 2024

Brutally Honest With Ourselves, Skillfully Honest With Others

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A character trait that people really respect in others is honesty. Being honest is about being consistent with your version of the truth. And to be honest requires us to accept the way things are even when it’s painful or takes courage.

We’d all benefit, and the world would be a better place, if we became more honest.

But being honest isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. While the ‘honest’ thing to do is more black and white, the way that we deliver it is more variable. Certain settings have certain considerations, and we can be more effective with our honesty when we’re aware of those things.

A quote that I believe can be best attributed to leadership coach Kathleen Seeley goes - “Be brutally honest with yourself and skillfully honest with others.”

The most impactful thing we can hear from ourselves is the direct, unbiased, unfiltered version of what’s going on. Our mind naturally tries to protect us from anything that’s psychologically challenging, so we add fluff to mute the blow. But it comes at the expense of us knowing what’s required of us to grow through the challenge. 

It doesn’t mean to be so blunt that you become self-deprecating... But to give yourself grace as you accept what is most honest, especially when it’s hardest to admit.

Now when we deal with others, the same approach can become problematic. There’s a lot more context that comes into play when honesty involves someone else. That’s why Kathleen says it needs to be skillfully done.

We don't negotiate what the honest thing is - that’s cultivating a lie - but what we do is present what’s honest in a way that’s more likely to be well-received by others.

The recipient must be open to hearing what you have to say if you want it to be effective. So navigating honesty more delicately, with different layers to it that unfold over time or in a series of ways, allows the message to be less confrontational and more collaborative. 

Here’s a personal example:

Before meeting and marrying my wife Irene, I dated a girl who is great person but our paths were incompatible. Had I been more brutally honest with myself earlier, I would’ve acknowledged the issue sooner and advanced in my life sooner than I did. There are many areas of our life where this would serve us, but in this case I wouldn’t change a thing because the timing of it all led me to being with Irene!

Now what if I had a friend who was in the same circumstance, and had a glaring incompatibility with their partner. It wouldn’t be right to bluntly tell them that they need to break it off ASAP. There’s more to it than that, so I could be honest about my opinion but communicate it in a more indirect way.

What’s more appropriate is to encourage them to think about their relationship more long-term and give voice to the incompatibility I see, so that they can process it themselves. 

That’s the nuance: Brutally honest with yourself, skillfully honest with others. Honesty is non-negotiable, but the way you go about it is more so.

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