I remember a conversation I had with a female friend who was telling me upset about a comment her boyfriend made related to her appearance:
Her: “He said I have thick thighs. I can believe it!”
Me: “I thought you wanted people to be honest with you. And he’s being honest.”
Her: “Yeah, but c’mon: how can he say that to me? I’m sensible about my appearance!”
Almost every person you ask will say that honesty is one of the top traits she’s looking for in other people: friends, lovers, colleagues or business partners. This is one of those things which are easier said than done. Because when most persons actually meet very honest people and they get a dose of that honesty, their reactions to it commonly suggest something different from their statements.
I believe that in fact, most people are rarely exposed to real honesty about things which they may not take so well. Usually for good reason. Sure, they may say they want honesty about everything, and it might truly be important for them from certain points of view.
But at the same time, a lot of the people they know will not believe this is true, or they will not be willing to risk it. So they will be honest and say the truth to them, only as long as they’re talking about the good or the neutral stuff. When it comes to the negative stuff though, they’ll find ways to avoid the subject, slip out of the conversation, or they’ll just lie and consider they’re tactful, they (yuck!) have people skills.
In my coaching, I will often give a client an honest feedback about a certain shortcoming. For example, I’ll say: “I think you’re listening skills are pretty bad and you could benefit a lot from improving them. You interrupted me almost every time I was talking; you repeatedly asked me questions I’ve already answered and you seem to me to often be in your head when I’m saying something.”
Even though I’ll usually phrase this feedback in a tactful, respectful way, the verbal and nonverbal response the client will give me usually indicates he is blown away by such an honest feedback and he didn’t see it coming. I often get responses like: “I’m not used to being said things like that from people.” What a surprise!
I highly encourage you to notice your emotional and behavioral reactions when someone gives you an honest feedback stating some negative things. Acknowledge your real reactions, not the ones you wish you would have. Then decide to look for very honest people, and to appreciate their honesty, even if sometimes you feel hurt because of it or you get defensive.
If you discover that your external reactions to negative feedback are not the most constructive you could have, work on them as part of improving your people skills. Even if you still hurt on the inside, don’t let this turn into pain for the other person.
Long term, the most important people skills development step you can take in this area is building some emotional toughness. This means you can take a negative feedback without feeling hurt. You can look for the value in the feedback, use it and react in a constructive way towards the feedback giver and his honesty.
I believe that building emotional toughness is one of the key ways you can become able to handle the truth no matter what a person’s truth is, and you can create more honesty and openness in the relations you have.