Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Honesty - Do You Have the Courage (to do it right)?

I have found that the biggest difference in a person's ability to manage conflicts in their own life stems from their courage to be honest. But, there is more than one way to be honest.   And most people do not choose the path that benefits both the person sharing their thoughts and the listener who has to take in the bit of honesty.

Honesty, used for the purpose of managing conflict, is thoughtful, careful, and complete.  It seeks to offer information with the presumption that this information will be enlightening and helpful to the other person. How is this different than what most people do?  Here are a few examples of the wrong kind of honesty and why it doesn't work: 
Being “brutally” honest – We’ve all experienced this one.  The words sting and we often don’t know what prompted them.  Brutal honesty suggests that one needs to injure the other person to bring about change.  While the receiver may get the correct message (they also may not), they also get with it a very negative association with the speaker and those who they believe may have influenced the speaker.  This impacts the likelihood and the type of change you will see.

Rambling or telling stories – Often in our desire to be gentle in our delivery, we muddle the information burying it with examples, stories, or our own insecurities.  Honesty takes courage.  Without it, the listener may fail to focus on exactly what you are sharing.  They are left to guess at the point of conversation.  Worst case scenario?  The person sharing may think his/her point is clear.  As a result, any lack of change may be seen as unwillingness by the recipient to make change, when in reality, s/he simply missed the point. 

Teasing the truth – Many people, out of their own discomfort with sharing difficult information will instead use teasing comments as “feedback” to the other person.  They may think their vocalized observations or sarcastic remarks are giving the other person a clear picture of what is wrong and what to change, but this rarely works.  Unfortunately, this option creates a combination of the problems noted in the two examples above; leaving both parties irritated and frustrated. 

A few pointers on how to do it better:
  1. Be Kind – It’s hard to hear criticism.
  2. Be Direct - Respect that the other person can handle the truth and give it to them.
  3. Be Complete – Without story-telling, explain the problem and its impact.   

This is easier than you might think.  Most of the time, when a person is telling me what they wish they could tell the other person, they have in fact just done all those things.  So what makes it so hard to do with the real intended recipient?  I think it is our fear of having the conversation, coupled with our belief that the other person is knowingly or intentionally behaving in a way that upsets us.  In other words, we expect resistance or perhaps a fight.

So let me add a final pointer:
  1. Give them the Benefit of the Doubt – Believe that they don’t know, but do care about what you are about to tell them.
Honesty is such a beautiful tool in managing conflict and our relationships as a whole.  It’s something we all must learn to do well.

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