Speaking the truth with love

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

A few years back I met a group of  loved ones honoring a deceased friend at a celebration of life gathering. There were old faces I hadn’t seen in years, and it was great to catch up, rehashing stories from college days, sharing about our kids, families, and travels. I found it delightful to engage in the rich, connecting conversations, and despite our sadness over the loss of our friend, joy abounded — except with one. She was not someone I ever knew well, but we shared many friendships and experiences. Within minutes of a conversation with her, she had turned off everyone unfortunate enough to be standing within earshot. Not only did she share a disapproving comment about our deceased friend’s children, she found fault with the food (lovingly prepared and donated by some kindhearted women in the local church area), and went on to share with us all how her personal eating and exercise regime is what made her look as good as she did.  Huh?! One by one, people made excuses to leave the conversation. I noticed she didn’t look any of us in the eye as she spoke, and didn’t pause to ask many questions. When one friend pointed out she was being a bit rude, she defended herself with, “I’m just being honest.”

Justifying hurtful words

How many times has someone used these four words to explain away their hurtful, negative, and damaging behavior, as if somehow honesty makes it OK?

I am not talking about telling lies to appease people, or about being dishonest to win friends. Being honest, up front, and speaking the truth are vital components of building trust with others, and trust is the foundation of meaningful relationships. Those that make a habit of telling untruths, whether about important or seemingly trivial matters, ruin their dependability and trustworthiness. Speaking with honesty is a very good thing. But how we speak our truth matters.

“The only way to tell the truth is to speak with kindness. Only the words of a loving man can be heard.” –Henry David Thoreau

You can’t have one without the other

Honesty and kindness go hand-in-hand, and those who don’t learn how to speak truth with kindness will most often go unheard. These are the people who come across as a little “rough around the edges”, and have an approach when tends to chill conversations. They may appear to be arrogant and unapproachable, and are often impatient, distant, and insensitive. Without even trying, they’re able to devalue others and are quick to jump to their own conclusions, eager to share their own opinions without consideration of the viewpoints of others. They often appear to be ‘too busy’ to slow down and really connect with others, and often struggle with a strong sense of self-righteousness.

Does this sound like someone you’d want to work for, or hire, or work alongside on a team? Those who haven’t learned the art of  building bonds are not the most enjoyable to be around, and often not someone we even want to connect with. The absence of people skills can leave them isolated and lacking in the friendship department. They may think others respect them where often it’s just that others avoid them. Though they may pride themselves in “speaking the truth”, this inability to connect with others can limit their success.

“Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart.” — Ancient proverb

What is kindness?

On the other hand, kindness can be translated as interpersonal effectiveness. It’s a competency of emotional intelligence that can be developed, and is a strong determinant of the quality of our relationships. It’s the ability to make others feel comfortable and put them at ease. People who are good at this are able to show compassion and empathy to build rapport…while they speak the truth.

How do they do this?

For one thing, they have a good understanding of how the social world works by tuning in to those around them. They’ve taken the time to understand and in turn, respect, differing cultural, religious, political, and socioeconomic belief system, even if it is not how they personally believe. They have learned to listen intently, reading body language as much as the verbal words they’re hearing, reflecting back for understanding, and use their words to build others up rather than tear down. They take a genuine interest in others and strive to understand who the other person is and why they do the things they do. They exercise solid conflict management skills and are able to diffuse high-tension situations with ease by being supportive and encouraging when they encounter strife. They’re not afraid to be vulnerable and share about themselves, because they’re being intentional about living a life that is above-board and honorable.

Developing good people skills

If you find that more often than not your truth lacks kindness, take heart. We’re talking about behavior, and behavior can be changed. Here are 7 tips to improve your interpersonal skills so that your truth spoken can be heard.

  1. Just put on a happy face. Seems simple, but recent studies show that those who express a genuine smile are able to connect better with others. Researcher Kostandin Kushlev says, ““Smiling is a really powerful social lubricant. When somebody smiles at you, that indicates approachability,”((https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563218304643) )  The positive energy a pleasant demeanor creates, not only in yourself, but others, can do a lot in building rapport.
  2. Make eye contact and speak their name. Have you ever left a conversation realizing you never even looked the other person in the eyes? Or have you asked someone their name only to forget it immediately? This is a fairly simple place to start, but looking at others in the eyes and using their name goes a long way in building rapport. Dale Carnegie said, “There is nothing more pleasant to a man than the sound of his own name.” No good at names? Stop making excuses and get good at it, because it is important. Using name associations and/or jotting down someone’s name when you meet them can help.
  3. Say thanks. Robert Emmons, one of the leading scientific experts on gratitude, found that expressing gratitude does several things to improve social relations. It enables us to become more helpful and generous and leads us to forgive others of wrongs. Gratitude can even help us feel less lonely and isolated by prompting us to be more outgoing. (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good)
  4. Show you care.  Learning to tune into the whys behind what others think can help you understand what drives their actions. Become other-oriented. How? Ask them questions about the details of their day-to-day lives — inquire about their commute, their kids, and what they did over the weekend. Learn their dog’s name. Discover their hopes and dreams. People love to be asked about themselves (and talk about themselves!) so ask open-ended questions to draw them out. And in doing so, resist the temptation to turn the conversation back to you. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” — Steven R. Covey
  5. Be amiable and affable. People respond to a pleasant, friendly demeanor much better than when they feel criticized or judged. Even if you don’t like what they’re saying, or agree with them, there’s no need to be demeaning or rude.
  6. Learn to fight fairly. No one enjoys conflict, but sweeping it under the rug or becoming combative and/or defensive doesn’t do much to fix the situation. Attempt to listen to the other side of the story and let your goal be a win-win solution vs. getting your own way. There is an old proverb that encourages us not to let the sun go down on our wrath. If there’s someone you are at odds with, do your best to resolve the conflict sooner than later. Ignoring the issues at hand only encourages us to stew, ruminate, and plant a seed of bitterness.
  7. Lend a helping hand. Developing a servant-leader mindset can go a long way in developing strong relationships. If there’s someone you’re not getting along with, try laying your own hurt feelings aside and think of something kind you could do for them. Maybe it’s offering an encouraging word, or a sincere compliment, taking them out for coffee, or extending your help on a project.  As Arthur Ciaramicoli says in his book, The Stress Solution, “Doing good induces others to reciprocate.”

We all want to be heard, and learning to speak our truth with kindness can go a long way in enhancing our connections with others. As with any new habit, it takes hard work, and time, and consistency to  achieve results. But it’s worth the effort, as your success depends upon it.

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ~ Henry James

 

 

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