How often have you heard someone say “Go on, be honest…” when asking you to comment on how they look or on some aspect of their behaviour? And how often has your response actually been honest?
Do people really want you to be honest?
The concept of honesty is synonymous with integrity, truthfulness and sincerity, it implies virtuosity and moral strength. Honesty is clearly a good thing. So why do we feel the need to avoid being honest?
Because sometimes the truth hurts. Even when it is delivered with tact and loving kindness, hearing the truth can be a painful experience. Hearing an unpalatable truth means that we have to make a choice – to change or to stay the same without the safety of delusion. Few of us would willingly or deliberately hurt our friends and who amongst us would want to be on the receiving end of that pain?
Yet the truth can be incredibly powerful.
One of the core conditions of counselling is congruence – a commitment to being open and honest. A counsellor works hard to hold a mirror up to a client so that the client can see themselves clearly, as they really are, without distortion. The rest of the journey involves helping the client to accept themselves fully, flaws and all or to change, to become a better version of themselves – the choice is theirs.
I try to bring this honesty into all of my work, counselling, coaching and facilitating because people come to me hoping to grow. They have given their consent to my honesty.
In my personal life I try to do the same. I am honest where there is consent to honesty. Consent is important.
On my kitchen wall there is a blackboard and on it I have written the following quotation from Gloria Steinem:
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
You can reduce the extent to which you upset someone, or indeed piss them off, by ensuring that you have their consent before you give them difficult feedback. That classic conversation opener “We need to talk…” strikes fear into most hearts – with good reason. If you find yourself using it you have probably agonised for days over what you want to say but the person on the receiving end has had no opportunity to prepare. Don’t expect to get a good response until they have had a chance to reflect. Give them time to reflect and then pick the conversation up again – brace yourself, there may be some honesty coming back to you.
But let’s go back to the start of that quotation “the truth will set you free”. That’s a really strong statement but I stand by every word of it. We are frequently held prisoner by our thoughts, unexpressed emotions leave us feeling powerless and frustrated.
This week I challenge you to think about honesty.
How open are you to hearing the truth about yourself?
Is there something that you really want to say to someone else? Are you being quiet because you don’t want to hurt someone? Do your words actually have the potential to help them?
Be kind, but be honest – the two are not incompatible.