I often talk to people about being honest and truthful. I meet people who tell me what honest people they are and how they ‘tell it like it is.’ But, I don’t often meet honest people who also have good outcomes with their honesty. More often they explode a Truth Bomb.
There is often one of two things going on here. First, if we are ‘honest’ when we are upset about someone else’s actions, thoughts, or words,, we tend to tell them the “truth” from our perspective, even if it hurts them. We support ourselves with “Sometimes the truth hurts.” But, what we miss in this statement is that telling the truth doesn’t have to be done in a hurtful way. The second thing that may be going on is that we think we need to educate someone with what we think. So we drop our “Truth bomb” on them.
I think that both of these practices are a little self-serving. I know I have had moments when I felt the need to share my perspective and told a hard truth to someone. Here is what I have learned from my own Truth Bombs.
The problem with telling a “Truth Bomb” to someone else is not the truth part, but the bomb part of the delivery. I can’t speak for you, but when people drop a truth bomb on me, I don’t hear them.
I taught Anger Management for the Air Force for 7 years and several of the responses I have gotten to this honesty issue have sounded like this:
“I am not going to sugar coat the truth!” or,
“I am a blunt person, just deal with it!” or
“Sorry if the truth hurts, but it’s the truth and that’s not my fault!” or
“I am not responsible if you don’t like the truth!”
Yet I have to ask, “Were you effective and did you get the outcome that you wanted with your method of truth telling?” Because where I have seen this go very badly is we told the real truth like it is man! with no fluff!, and we blew the other person out of the water, we sunk their battleship, and now they won’t or can’t hear us. We may have severed the relationship, or created ammo for them to use at us a later time in a future conversation. Basically, we did harm and our truth was not only useless, but may have been abusive. And, my guess is that probably wasn’t the intent behind the truth, but it might certainly be the impact.
When I was young someone told me, “If what you do with the truth is blow someone up, your point, your insight, your message, the value of the very truth your are attempting to share would be lost.”
The best way to help my truth be heard was to develop it around the ideas of True, Kind, and Necessary. These three values were the legs that stabilized the truth. These were the values that helped people hear the truth from me. This concept fits very neatly with “Socrates’ Triple Filter Test,” True, Good, Useful. It also is something you heard at least in part, in childhood, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I don’t subscribe to the last statement, because sometimes I have to say something difficult. But, my goal is to be heard by the other person. And, if I have something difficult to say and say it in a mean and hurtful way, I know I won’t be heard.
I see True, Kind, and Necessary as aspects or legs of a stool; without all three, you lose stability. I have heard people say to just use a 2/3 model, if it is two of the three, you can say it, but I believe you will get maximum impact with the power of all 3. This does mean we sometimes have to slow down our statements, think about our responses, gain insights into what we are really trying to say, so we can say it clearly and concisely. At the end of the day, if the conversation is so important you to have it, the statement and truth are so compelling your have to share it, then you actually owe it to your conversation to do it well. Like most bombs, this one is best left unexploded.