"Let Me Be Brutally Honest..."
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"Let Me Be Brutally Honest..."

You may have been on the receiving end of this remark at one time or another. Usually it means that the rest of what follows - disguised as constructive criticism - is someone being honestly brutal about you or something you did. Whether dealing with family, colleagues, clients, or in a chance encounter with strangers, the “conversation” is usually rationalized with words like “someday you’ll appreciate this” or “this is for your own good.”

I’ve never really appreciated the need to talk smack or verbally beat up on people. Now that’s not to say I haven’t done it. I have been brutally honest (cruel?) with someone at least four times in my life. It felt really good for a few minutes. Then I felt so bad I had to go back to them and apologize for having treated them with so little respect and dignity – two values always important to me.

After the fourth time, I decided to learn how to be honest without being brutal.  After all, there’s bound to be a way to be “compassionately honest” or “empathetically honest” and actually have someone be grateful for having received the message.

I’m still working on it and I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned about interpersonal communications.  Perhaps these practices will help you find an effective substitute for “brutal honesty.”

Learning #1: The axe forgets but the tree remembers.  

I first heard this in 1998.  That simple saying has stuck with me.  It’s a principle Maya Angelou also believed in and she put it this way: “People may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”  People carry enough personal baggage of their own around, they for sure don’t need it piled on by a third party.

Learning #2:  Humility, kindness, and truth are characteristics of highly effective leaders.  

Those who forget the humility and kindness pieces of this triad tend to be those who rely on fear and intimidation to produce results.  People either get used to that or they get away from it.  Either way, “The Terminator” loses, and so does the organization.

Learning #3:  Meanness disguised as brutal honesty becomes a hostage to karma.  

“What goes around comes around.”  “Revenge is a dessert best served cold.”  There are probably several other sayings like this that make the point.  Brutality, no matter how well intended, will come back to haunt you.

Of course, I’ve learned other things along the way, such as “Truth.  When in doubt, tell it.”  And when you do, follow the advice of the 14th Dali Lama:

“Whenever possible be kind.  And it’s always possible.”

Dan Schneider is a partner/director of The Rawls Group, a business succession planning firm.    For additional information, visit www.seekingsuccession.com or call 407-578-4455.

Published: November 29th, 2021

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