Brutally Honest—Is That All There Is?

She described in great detail how she told her friend “for his own good” what he should have done.  As she spoke, her eyes were shining and she was grinning broadly. She was being, as she said, “brutally honest.”   Appalled, I silently wondered, “Does she know how cruel she sounds?  Why does she think she has to be brutal to be honest?  Does she even realize it’s possible to be honest without being brutal?”   I think not.

I had been so surprised by what she told me that I was speechless. Reflecting later on this situation, I realized how often men and women are “brutally honest”.  I thought how I had learned to be a “nice girl” and not confront people because being aggressive or “brutally honest” had been what I’d seen modeled by some people and was not how I wanted to be. Yet I hadn’t seen any other way of being honest with people.  I didn’t know how to do it differently.  On a continuum I saw people at one end, more often men, being aggressive, At the other end were people, more often women, being passive.  I didn’t like either one.  What was in the middle?  Was there a middle?

I didn’t know the answer to that question until in my early 20’s I found out about assertiveness training.  I took a course and it was a true eye-opening “aha!” to learn that assertiveness was what was in the middle of the continuum.  I learned that being assertive meant calmly telling someone what you want or believe while also acknowledging the other person’s right to have another point of view.  I loved this middle ground!  While it wasn’t easy to learn and took a lot of practice over many years, it has been well worth the effort.  I have helped friends, colleagues and clients learn how to respond to people who are aggressive.  I’ve also helped people who had passive styles learn to be assertive.  Several people have told me that in such situations they’d stop and ask themselves “How would Lorrie handle this?  What would she say differently?”  I was floored!

One day, I had a client who came to a session with bright red cheeks, which at first I thought was a joke.  During our time together I realized it wasn’t and recalled that she had lost the vision in one eye.  It was an awkward situation to tell her about how dark her cheek make-up was, and I pondered how to address it.  There are many ways including:

1)  Aggressive—Brutally Honest:  “I can’t believe how you look like a silly clown!  Don’t you realize how ridiculous you are?  Why would you even step out the house looking so bad?  You’ve got to take that make-up off this instant!”

2)  Passive—Avoidance:  Sidestep the situation completely.  Don’t mention it to the woman.  (Some people would then gossip about how she looked to others behind her back—passive/aggressive behavior.)

3)  Assertive—Kind and Direct:  “I’m not sure whether you realize it, but you have  quite a bit of make-up on your cheeks.  It looks like you may have put more on than you intended, and I wanted you to be aware of it.”

After I made the third statement to her, she quickly pulled out her compact and looked at herself in the mirror.  She exclaimed that she had no idea and started wiping the red off with a tissue.  Her limited vision and a poorly lit room resulted in her applying too much.  The feedback gave her a chance to then find a well-lit room in her house to apply her make-up.  My client really appreciated my telling her in a way that wasn’t shaming or embarrassing.

I believe by telling people in a kind and direct manner, it’s possible to be honest in a way that allows them to hear the feedback without feeling attacked and having to put up a wall to “protect themselves” from people who are being “brutally honest.”

When you want or have to be honest with someone about a challenging situation, how do you handle it?  Do you address it at all?  Is your style of giving people feedback “Brutally Honest”, “Passive” or “Assertive”?  Which style do you wish to have?

If you prefer the Assertive approach and it’s unfamiliar to you, the way to learn it is to think through new ways of responding to likely situations (possibly confer with someone you know who is tactful), write down new answers, practice them aloud until they become comfortable, then use them in real life situations.  It takes practice and patience to develop a new style of being honest.  And it’s worth it!

Would you like support in learning a “Kind and Direct” style of communication? Click here to contact me and let’s get started!


Lorrie’s Learnings is a monthly e-article which shares my awarenesses, learnings, contemplations and anything else that comes to the mind of this life coach! Let me know the articles that give you new perspectives/thoughts/feelings, confirm what you’ve been thinking or move you into action. To receive Lorrie’s Learnings straight to your email inbox, click here!