We view brutal honesty as the ultimate honesty.
We tell our loved ones we’re “keeping it real” before we proceed to eviscerate their life choices. Then, they get defensive and rail back on us for hurt feelings. We, in turn, claim we’re just “calling it like we see it.”
But is it all even necessary?
At what point does brutal honesty become just brutality? Are we lying to ourselves about what it means to honest with others? I have a few points to consider.
Are Your Beliefs the Absolute Truth?
It’s important to distinguish fact from opinion. Just because you believe something to be true, it doesn’t mean it’s reality. Let’s consider the phrase, “I just tell it like it is.” Exactly what is it? Think about what you believe the person’s problem is versus what they’ve actually told you.
For instance, I had an interaction with a friend recently. I told them I was having a bad day. They proceeded to say “Quit complaining and do something about your life. I don’t want to hear you moan and groan anymore until you do!”
I was actually at a point in my life where things were going exceptionally well. Most of my days went swimmingly. That particular day wasn’t going great. So, where did my friend get everything else from?
Turns out, they were basing their opinion on events that happened to me several years ago. They remembered when I was at a low point in my life and for some reason hadn’t caught up since. That goes back to belief versus facts. The fact was me saying I had a bad day. The belief was my friend thinking my life was in shambles and in need of fixing.
See the difference?
Are You Helping or Hurting?
Brutal honesty usually comes across as negative. I’ve personally never heard someone say, “I’m gonna be brutally honest with you. You’re an amazing, talented person.” Instead, I’ve heard, “I’m going to tell you something you might not like…” followed by an unnecessarily harsh monologue.
Think about it. Is negativity towards someone designed to help? Doesn’t positive reinforcement work better than tearing someone down just to “toughen them up?”
Is your intent to truly help someone or simply get something off your chest? How you say something is just as important as what you say. Do you ever offer praise or encouragement? If honesty is the goal, shouldn’t those aspects also be a focus?
Consider the Relationship Dynamic
Too often, brutal honesty occurs in a relationship that is unequal (or perceived that way). A high-level exec at a company may berate a lower-level employee. Afterwards, that exec might “flower it up” by calling it tough love. However, if the tables were turned, would this be acceptable? Probably not.
If a person perceives themselves to have it “more together” than someone else, they’ll usually feel comfortable giving that person advice. However, would the person who has it “together” be okay with the other person administering tough love? Probably not.
Butal honesty too often gets rooted in a need to feel superior while belittling others. Consider how you’d feel if someone you perceived to be “less than” gave you the same advice you give others.
Why Do You Need to be Unkind?
We live in the age of social media and its perceived cancel culture. Naturally there will be those who resist what they feel is censorship. In a time where facts often get discarded in favor of opinions, we also misconstrue what counts as honesty.
Truth doesn’t have to be unkind. It doesn’t have to hurt or demolish. So, why do some of us gravitate towards the brutality of it? The world is filled with cruel words, especially on social media. We, in turn, believe that we’re helping others by feeding into that negativity by giving our unfiltered opinions.
Except, it doesn’t have to work that way, especially with people we care about. Being able to tell the truth without hurting is a sign of emotional maturity and empathy. People have feelings, and they’re allowed to protect them.
How Do We Gain Emotional Maturity?
It starts with a sense of self. In my book, Life After Low Self-Esteem, I talk about the many methods I used to overcome self-doubt and low emotional intelligence. The good news? Anyone can overcome any of the items mentioned. Check it out, and let me know what you think!