Honesty is the best policy. The truth will set you free. These are sayings that underline the strength and importance of telling the truth. However, you may find yourself dealing with a person or a situation where telling the truth can seem like the toughest challenge. You know in your head and in your heart that telling the truth will only result in a disaster. Telling a little white lie may seem like the safer and easier option but, like a spider’s web or an overgrown garden, lies can become tangled and eventually come back to haunt you at the most inopportune times when you least expect them.
The truth can hurt but it can also heal. If someone has the wrong idea, impression, assumption or understanding, is working with incorrect or inaccurate information or is moving in the wrong direction, telling the truth will get them turned around, moving in the right direction and they will ultimately stop wasting their own valuable time, money and energy. The individuals that work with or come into contact with them will also be grateful for this positive change in circumstances.
Before you tell someone the truth in the form of constructive feedback or what they may see as a hurtful remark, unsolicited feedback, negative criticism or jealousy masking as concern, prepare consciously and carefully for the truth telling. First, thank them for the time that they have given you to speak with them. Second, write down word for word exactly the truth that you would like to tell this individual. You may want to start with some context or background and end on a positive note of support, reassurance and encouragement. Be sure to include the reasons why you believe it is important to tell them the truth at this time. Third, rehearse the conversation. Be seated and make sure that there is a chair facing you. Imagine that the individual who will be receiving this truth is sitting in this chair. Fourth, look them straight in the eyes and read your truth out loud slowly and sincerely. Watch for reactions from the other person in terms of their body language and facial expressions. While this is merely envisioning and rehearsing for the real conversation, preparation will allow you to remain calm and confident regardless of their reaction or response.
It is important to remember that all of the preparation in the world cannot predict the outcome of this conversation. Even though you believe telling them this truth is for their own good and you are doing it with the best of intentions, some people will react with hurt and anger and will do everything possible to make you feel guilty for having told them this truth. Others will at first feel surprised and go on the defensive and then they will offer their thanks for your great gift of truth. Avoid allowing your lack of control of the other person’s reaction or response to hold you back from telling them the truth. However, make sure that this truth is based on fact rather than rumour, opinion or supposition and that it is being delivered from a place of honesty, integrity and sincerity.
If you are the one being told the truth, listen carefully to what is being said and to what is not being said. Before you say a word in reaction or response, first assess the person who is telling you this truth. Do you trust and respect them and are they positive, supportive and encouraging or do you distrust and disrespect them and are they negative, unsupportive and discouraging? Second, take a few moments to process the tone and content of this truth. This may be something that you really do not want to hear but you may need to hear because continuing as you are may be having a negative impact on your life, career and/or business. You may choose to say to the truth teller that you need some time to think about and process what you have been told before you offer a reaction or response. While the truth sometimes does hurt, try to see beyond the emotion to the facts and the benefits that you can gain from this truth.
In the end, things do work out for the best as telling the truth transmits trust. Be the person that family, friends, clients/customers, contacts and colleagues can trust to always tell them the truth. You may be disliked in the short term but you will be trusted and respected in the long term.