I know some people who are very blunt, seemingly by nature. A few of those people have even said, “I’m a brutally honest person.” I used to believe in brutal honesty, though I never had the guts to engage in it myself. But when I realized that some of the hurtful things these people were saying to me were in the name of “brutal honesty,” I decided that it wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
There’s a reason that it’s called “brutal honesty,” and that’s because it’s brutal. It’s painful. You hurt people when you’re brutally honest with them. And it’s often unnecessary.
First off, I recognize that, yes, there will be times when brutal honesty is necessary. A friend who makes the same mistake over, and over, and over, and can’t figure out why, or worse, knows why but won’t stop whatever they’re doing, likely needs someone to be brutally honest with them. A subordinate at work whose performance is consistently below expectations, despite several discussions already, probably needs a dose of brutal honesty. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about people who feel the need to be brutal with their words in their responses to others, in their criticisms, in virtually every interaction they have where they can voice an opinion, all the time.
I’m talking about people who have to heap on negative criticism of an idea, regardless of whether you even asked for their thoughts. Or worse, when they asked you to tell them your idea. I’m talking about people who think giving advice means telling you what’s wrong with you, every time, even if it’s the first time you’ve ever experienced your particular problem.
But mostly, I’m talking about people who engage in all of that, and more, and then say, “Hey, if you didn’t want an honest answer, you shouldn’t have brought it up,” even when you never asked for their thoughts. In my experience, these people also say, “I’m a brutally honest person. If you can’t accept me as I am…”
I’m not saying you need to lie. I’m not saying you should beat around the bush. It’s not in what you say, it’s in how you say it. You don’t need to be hurtful with the truth, and you need to learn when your way of telling your truths are hurting those around you. You need to learn how to give your opinion as your opinion, and not as something that’s wrong with the person you’re talking to. In other words, you need to learn how to talk to people without being insulting and hurtful.
Because that’s how brutal honesty is often seen. We’re all hard enough on ourselves. We’ve all looked in the mirror, either literally or figuratively, and seen all our faults and none of our good qualities. We all know that the truth, no matter how kindly spoken, can hurt. Nobody needs a painful truth to be even more painful than it has to be. So the next time you want to be brutally honest with someone, stop and ask yourself whether being brutal is a must, or if you might be unnecessarily hurting the person you’re talking with.