You Can’t Handle the Truth

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.


  1. Well said Eduard. It can be hard hearing the truth, but I think often we know whatever it is deep down anyway (we just don’t expect people to say it, even when it’s true!:)) Also some of the best lessons I’ve learnt is this way.

  2. Hi Eduard, i think it is true wanting honesty and being able to handle the truth are to very different things. I think once we start on the road to personnel development we must treasure every review and critique of our action because they give us another point of view on how we are changing. does this always make it emotionally easy to deal with that information, hardly but as long as we focus on the lesson we can learn it is something we must do.
    .-= Quinn´s last blog ..Giving up can be good =-.

  3. criticism only makes us feel bad when don’t have a plan for working on our falws, if she used to exercise she won’t have felt bad, thanks for the post

  4. Hi Eduard!

    Interesting points there. My experience is that many people (and I am no exception from this) try to come across as honest by telling facts about the other person that *look like* brutal honesty about their shortcomings. No, that’s not wrong, that’s actually fun. What I mean is that you speak to them honestly about their positive stuff, and then add something like.. um.. “you know you’re so easygoing when it comes to lollipops” (whatever). And that’s it. You come across as honest. In most cases.

    Best regards,

  5. I liked your point about being honest, but yet tactful. I think that the key to making people receptive to change and feedback is phrasing the corrective feedback in a way that is least threatening. And, sometimes, when I think I am being brutally honest, I am actually being harsh and critical. If the goal is change, then the obvious and best thing to do is to find a way of bringing out the truth that is gentle, but communicates a message that something isn’t quite right.

  6. @Jen – I’m very surprised how hard it can be to handle honest feedback.

    @Quinn – I think being able to handle honest feedback is very important for personal development. This is why a lot of people don’t truly begin the personal development journey.

    @Farouk – and when we have very fragile egos.

    @Zoli – I’m somewhat familiar with the phenomenon. It’s like trying to get the apreciation of a person who is honest, without actually being honest about the important stuff.

    @Dan – I agree. The essence is not to avoid saying the negative stuff. It’s just to phrase it correctly, tactfully.

  7. Eduard –

    Intriguing post! I think that delivering a truthful observation can be very powerful. It is important to give feedback appropriately. In my experience, people find it easier to understand feedback when it is backed up by clear examples of the behavior or issue. I also think that if you are going to be honest, you need to be there to help the person understand the issue clearly, develop a plan for change and support them through that. Otherwise we can get into a pump and dump mentality of offloading and then running away. So if you are brave enough to tell the truth, stick around to help change the world.


    .-= Phil Bolton´s last blog ..Friends – Will they Really be There for you? =-.

  8. The truth Will set you free if you let it… it’s about maturity
    Thanks Eduard
    .-= Lloyd´s last blog ..The principle of rhythm… Renewing your vision =-.

  9. Eduard,

    I greatly appreciated your post along with the feedback you have received thus far. I believe in being honest and people being honest with me. For me, self-confidence plays a key role in being able to have the ability to hear honesty from another person about me or about something I have done to hurt their feelings. For me, it is about taking everything with a grain of salt, evaluating the information to determine if I need to make a change within myself verses taking on everything someone tells me as a need to change. Differentiation between the two is the key, being confident and being open to hearing honesty is also fundamental to growing. Some people play the victim role and are not able to hear honesty due to their life experiences, regardless how the honesty is presented. I believe it is a case by case situation. Working on changing ourselves is the best journey and part of that is based on critical honesty from friends and family while at the same time liking myself and taking everything in stride.

  10. Great insights. Our egos spend great effort and time building up our stories so it’s not easy for them to hear truth. One way to define wisdom is the increasing ability to recognize our own ego.

    In my own experience, I’ve found that self-honesty is not easy but can be developed.

    Thanks, great post.
    .-= Kaushik´s last blog ..The Basics — 13 key points about the flow of awakening =-.

  11. Well if you want honestly you are not good at spelling as you have a sentence “I thing” which should be “I think”. How do you like that Mr Honest Feedback Giver 🙂

  12. Oh look I spelt honesty honestly LOL karma hey 🙂

  13. Ooopsy! Thanks Michael. I took care of it 😉

  14. to know the truth about yourself it’s a great way to improve your skills.i know that it’s hard to accept that you are not perfect, but onestly, i prefer onest people around me than insidious ones.

    Thanks Eduard for your point!
    .-= Thannya´s last blog ..Cateva melodii dragute din playlist-ul meu =-.

  15. My pleasure Thannya. I to valuable honest feedback, even if sometimes it’s not very accurate or realistic.

  16. well said! i always tell the truth and what i think about certain things and the will argue with me saying thats not what they want to hear. if you want an opinion you better be ready for what is going to be said good or bad. no one now understands honesty nowadays. people only want to hear what they want to hear.

  17. You can’t reform something that is inherently flawed. Politics run on one kind of fuel….money. That translates to greed. The world was never meant to become a big money making empire. So I say that MOST all people cannot handle the truth. For two main reasons.

    One. Because they have a false version of the truth which is tailored to tell them what they want to hear.

    Two. Because they prefer lies over the truth. For instance, the scene in Open Season cartoon where in the shadows, it looked as if a bear was tearing apart another animal, which in reality he wasn’t at all. But it was an excuse to show violence to children. Thus, lies were chosen over truth. Call it deception.

    Greed is the number one problem in the world. And when you put things iinto proper perspective, you will find that it runs through the veins of the majority of all people. It may not consciously be money. It might be something else. But people are “wanting” everything. There is very little self sacrifice left. No virtues. Just people selling something. I;ve never seen so many book writers who claim to offer solutions to people’s problems. And after decades of this nonsense, people still haven’t found the solutions that way. People who claim to help others for a price are LIARS and THIEVES. The only real helpers are the volunteers who work for FREE. They are serving a higher purpose at their own expense. And they ask nothing in return. In the churches we often see the hypocrites who do good deeds so they can brag and gain a reputation. They are no better than a killer, spiritually speaking.

    I for one learned early on in my life there was more to it than all the vanity and lust that is all around every single day. The world is getting worse. Not better. That is subjective depending on how much you love yourself and money. I actually have a brother who is the opposite of me. He loves money. And he still lie and con people to get it. Some day the world will end up being turned inside out. And it will be the greedy people who will break apart. Only those who saw things coming will know better. And they will haters of greed.

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