How Hard Is It To Speak The Truth With Love? - Lisa E Betz
Do you always tell the truth? If we’re honest, we’re not as honest as we like to think. We tell little white lies, we beat around the bush, and we pretend we’re fine when we’re not.
And we do it without even realizing it, half the time. As Geri Scazzero says in The Emotionally Healthy Woman:
“Lying and pretense is so deeply ingrained that we rarely notice it. Every culture and every family has their own unique way of spinning half-truths, withholding facts, and avoiding awkward moments.”Geri Scazzero
A few examples of the kinds of unconscious untruths we fall into every day:
- We say we enjoyed an activity just to fit in, but secretly we didn’t enjoy it at all.
- We claim a comment or request doesn’t bother us at all, when in truth it bothered us a lot.
- We smile and pretend we are happy, when inside we are hurt and wondering why others can’t see what we want them to do (without our needing to ask).
The problem with all this pretense is it leaves misunderstandings to simmer and our hurt feelings to pile up. And that leads to strained relationships and stressful interactions at work and home.
We need to learn how to speak truth with love. Speaking truth can heal misunderstandings, strengthen trust, and enable relationships to flourish. But it isn’t easy.
Speaking the truth will sometimes create conflict. We may ruffle some feathers, pop someone’s bubble, or bring up festering issues others would rather ignore. However, speaking the truth in love is the foundation to building healthy, long-lasting relationships.
Four Guidelines to speak the truth with love.
Learning how to speak truth with love is a crucial skill that all of us can master. But it will take practice to ditch our ingrained habits of pretense and white lies and develop better habits of speaking honestly and clearly but with kindness.
Here are the four key elements of speaking the truth with love:
If we don’t start with the right attitude, we will quickly run into trouble. Speaking honestly isn’t about correcting others or venting our feelings all over them. Our goal is to heal misunderstandings and strengthen relationship, not to incur new wounds.
Truth spoken in an unkind, irresponsible, disrespectful, or belittling manner (in words, tone, or body language) creates more damage than it solves. So be careful how and what you say.
Examples of disrespectful speech:
- “That’s a stupid idea.”
- “You always break your promises.”
- “You never listen.”
A more respectful way to say it:
- “I don’t understand how that will work. Let’s explore it. Can you explain what you mean?”
- “I’m hurt when you break a promise I was counting on.”
- “I’m frustrated because I can’t seem to get across what I’m trying to say. Can you please listen without jumping to conclusions while I try again?”
Honesty means saying what you think without half-truths or little white lies. Honesty also means admitting how you feel, even when you’d rather not admit it. Often honesty is at stake when we say what we think others want to hear to avoid conflict. But in reality, dishonesty buries the conflict rather than eliminating it.
Examples of dishonest conversation:
- “I’ll think about it.” (When you mean no.)
- “It’s no problem.” (When it’s actually a significant inconvenience.)
- “It’s delicious.” (When you don’t like it and don’t want to eat it again next week.)
More honest answers would be:
- “I wish I could help, but I can’t this time.”
- “I’d have to rearrange my whole schedule to do that. Is it possible … (make a counter-offer that is easier for you.)
- “It looks wonderful, but I’m not particularly fond of (this flavor or type of food).
Be Clear and Specific
Misunderstandings often arise when we say something in an unclear way, leaving room for the other person to misunderstand or misinterpret. Unclear speech includes hinting, beating around the bush, vague statements, and asking one thing when we really want something else.
Examples of unclear speech:
- “It would be nice if I didn’t have to unload the dishwasher every night.” (Listeners can agree wholeheartedly with this statement without any obligation to help.)
- “You need to clean up your room.” (Clean is too vague a word.)
- “How many times do I have to tell you not to leave your bike lying in the driveway?”
- “Would you unload the dishwasher tonight?”
- “Will you put your clothes away, make your bed, and pick up all the stuff on the floor.”
- “When you forget to put your bike away, I have to get out of the car to move the bike so I can pull into the garage. Let’s figure out a way to make it easier for you to put your bike where it belongs.”
Consider the Timing
We’ve all had those messy experiences where we’ve been simmering over an issue all day and hit the person with it the minute they walk in the door. Disaster, right?
If we want to foster clear, calm, helpful communication, we need to discern when both parties are emotionally ready to face it. That means doing your best to avoid discussing touchy issues when either party is hungry, angry, tired, or in the middle of a project that takes concentration.
But don’t allow waiting for an opportune time to morph into putting the conversation off indefinitely! You may need to get your desire to talk on the other person’s radar by saying something like: “We need to discuss what happened last night. I see you’re not in the mood to talk about it now, but can we sit down after dinner?”
Each of these four elements is challenging, but worth the effort. I hope you’ll begin working them into your everyday conversations so they become habits.
You can do this! Here’s your first small step
As you go about your week, make an effort to notice the times you fail to speak respectfully, or honestly, or clearly, or timely. When you catch yourself, stop, apologize, and try again. Here are examples:
- When you notice your words aren’t respectful, apologize by saying something like, “Sorry, that sounded a bit harsh. Let me rephrase it…”
- When you notice you’re not being honest, say something like, “Sorry, I’m not being honest about my feelings here. Actually …”
- When you notice your words aren’t clear enough, say something like, “I’m not sure I explained what I mean well enough. Let me try to be more specific… “
- When you realize you’ve chosen a bad time, admit it. “Forgive me, I see this wasn’t a good time to talk about ___. We can discuss it later.”
Every time you flag yourself and try again, you have taken one more small step toward developing a habit of speaking truth, and that habit will yield great dividends in your family and friendships.