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Let’s Be Honest

“Be honest, be nice, be a flower not a weed.”

-Aaron Neville

How many times in your life have you been told to “be nice”? If you’re a woman, probably too many to count. How many of those times happened immediately after you expressed your honest opinion about something? I’m betting quite a few. And how many of those times was it you telling you to be nice??

So what’s going on here? Why, when we’re honest, is it automatically perceived as not being nice? We can’t be both? Really?? We can talk to a magic box in our house and make paper towels/groceries/himalayan salt lamps appear at our door within hours, we can teach the friendly voice in our phone to pronounce our name correctly, we can buy a trip to space! But we can’t be honest without being mean? Something about this doesn’t add up.

Maybe part of the problem is the unfortunate and frequent pairing of the word “brutally” with the word “honest”. Must we be brutal in order to be honest? Surely not. There must be some way we can stand up for and express ourselves without destroying all our relationships in a swirling tornado of cruelty.

Of course, there is some value in being “nice”. Humans are inherently social creatures. Our desire to be liked and accepted runs deep, and considering other people’s feelings is an essential part of that. As such, there are times when honesty really is not the best policy. For example, when your best friend proudly presents her newborn baby … and you can’t believe how much that little bundle of joy resembles a very tiny, very red Steve Buscemi. Isn’t she just the cutest??? Pretty sure being honest in this scenario officially makes you a bonafide, card-carrying monster.

But what about the rest of the time? If we’re constantly worried about being nice, being liked can become more important than respecting ourselves. When that happens, it can be easy to forget we have the right to like what we like, dislike what we don’t, get what we pay for, and be treated the way we deserve. We owe it to ourselves to protect those rights. Likewise, when it has the potential to serve the people we interact with, we owe it to them to speak up when something isn’t quite right. For instance, telling your massage therapist that you loved your treatment when truthfully you ground your teeth down to little stumps trying to endure pressure that could turn coal into a diamond doesn’t help either of you. You paid for a service that you weren’t satisfied with, and she misses the opportunity to learn that digging her bony elbow aggressively into your spine for 90 consecutive minutes doesn’t qualify as “gentle” pressure. She goes on to torture another client, she misses out on any repeat or referral business from you, and you leave feeling like you wasted your time and money. Lose-lose-lose.

Like so many things in life, the key here is balance. We need to find the enchanted middle ground between putting the brutal in brutally honest and suppressing our opinions to the point of becoming robots programmed to always smile and agree. Think of it this way: instead of telling your new mommy friend you’ve never seen a more beautiful child in all of creation, you tell her how sweet the baby smells, or how irresistible you find those little toes. Honest and nice! Everybody wins.

Think you could use more honesty in your life? Start here …

  1. Be honest with yourself. What is true for you in this situation?

  2. Would it help you and/or your hairstylist/mother-in-law/scuba instructor if you were honest? Repeat after me: if the answer is no, let it go. Consider your intention - use honesty as a tool, not a weapon.

  3. Be kind. If the answer to #2 is YES, then boldly go forth and speak your truth! Just remember to be polite and compassionate in your delivery.

  4. Stick to the facts. The truth will sting less and be more helpful if you leave any drama/blame/name-calling out of it — “I asked you to cut two inches, but it looks like you cut closer to nine. How can I communicate my wishes more clearly going forward?” is easier to swallow than “What have you done?! I’m hideous! My life is ruined because you’re a terrible, awful no-talent fraud of a hairstylist!”.

With a little tact, the truth really doesn’t have to hurt. Isn’t that nice?

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