How to Tell People the Horrible Truth

Guest post by Nicholas Cardot.

Alright.  You’ve been there.  You know.  When your friend turns to you and asks for your opinion about something they’ve just built, designed or created.

You look at their creation and you wonder if they actually did it or if they unleashed a five-year-old on their supplies and what you’re looking at is the results.

You ask yourself, ‘Do they want me to be honest or do they want to feel good.’  It’s a tricky question.

I’m in the Army.  When I have something wrong, my Sergeant looks at me and says, “Hey Cardot!  You screwed up.  You’re an idiot.  Go fix that.”

I smile and reply, “Roger Sergeant.”  And I move out and fix the issue.  I don’t get upset.  That’s how we’re trained.  But outside of the Army, people aren’t like that.  You have to approach them differently.

Well let’s say that you decide to be honest.  You think that that whatever they’re doing is absolutely hideous and you’re afraid that others are going to think it also.  You don’t want them to look bad in front of others so you decide to take the plunge and let them know that they are all messed up.

Here’s how to do it

1.  Relate. It’s always comforting to someone who’s messed up to know that someone else did also.  Try sharing your comments with something like, “You know I used to do that exact same thing…”

2.  Reinforce. If you focus on someone’s bad skills you’re going to make them feel pretty worthless.  Be sure to include your praise for what you do like about them or their project.  Don’t be all negative.

3.  Assure. Make sure that your friend understands that you’re trying to help them.  Go out of your way to make it clear that you have their best interests in mind.  If not, you’re only going to end up alienating them from being your friend.  You don’t want that.

4.  Don’t Insist. If your friend suggests that they don’t agree with you, that they don’t want to hear it, or that it’s none of your business…then back off.  Don’t throw your friendship away over something that may not really matter.

In the end remember the old adage, “Unasked for advice is seldom heeded and often resented.”  If they don’t ask for your advice then don’t offer it up.  It will probably only offend them.

How do you share the ugly truth with someone?

Gently and with the best intentions.  Make sure you encourage them and assure them that you’re only saying it because they are your friend.

Nicholas Cardot uses his blog Site Sketch 101 to express his passion for helping people learn how to blog with awesome content, brilliant designs and commanding influence.

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  1. Robin Dickinson December 11, 2009 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Nicholas. Excellent post.

    Giving feedback can be tricky, especially when you are dealing with people who choose to personalize it.

    My general rule is to go soft of people and hard on issues. And as you say, don’t give advice unless asked for. What do they say…the only vice is ad-vice.

    A sure sign of a functional and maturing relationship is the ability to be able to share honest and useful feedback without ever having the fear that it will be personalized or misconstrued.

    Best, Robin

  2. scheng1 December 11, 2009 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    That’s why people are not offended when their bosses told them off, yet are offended when their family members share the ugly truth.
    I think they take it personally when friends and relatives speak the truth.

  3. Randall December 11, 2009 at 2:58 pm - Reply

    This is from the other side. When you are told the ugly truth it is hard to deal with! You have to take some time to deal. Sometimes when you have been told the ugly truth you just have to stop and let it soak in.

    We have much to learn, if we are not so superficaial and thin skinned to take it. If we can take some time to let the initial sting to heal we can benefit from someone telling us where we went array.

    When telling the truth to an individual, you must be patient and consider the person you are talking to. Sometimes our first inclination is to lash out and tell them exactly what we think. This is wrong! A reactionary comment will do more harm than good and I believe it may come from the shallow side of our personality.

    Take time to breath, consider and truely help the other person. I know people who are so proud of saying “it was the truth so I just said it”. Well the truth can indeed be ugly but it does not have to be.

    Our aim should be to restore, respect and heal those who we are interacting on a daily basis. It’s fine to be honest but we should also be kind in the process!

  4. Cecilia December 11, 2009 at 11:40 pm - Reply

    One more question,Annabel. How do uou tell a religionist who are always at your ass trying to convert you to their beliefs . As an aestheist they think I am a sheep has gone astray & they need to save me. These people comes to my door on Sunday afternoon,looking for Jesus in my home. I use to greet them naked. But that also has gone old ,they were even more persistent.

    Another thing I want to know is when a person has a bad breath. I use to ask my son & he would tell me about me brutally honest,but what about when they are your boss?

  5. Tomas Stonkus December 12, 2009 at 2:42 am - Reply

    Dear Nicholas:

    Great article about being honest while not hurting other people’s feelings. It is a real delicate situation, but I like your suggested approach.

    However, from experience I know that in practice it does not work as well. I think the hard thing to carry out is not insisting that the other person take your truth for granted.

    I have been in many situations where I “knew” I was right and I just had to convince the other person that he was wrong. I became overly emotional and the whole thing turned out to be a disaster.

    So being aware of yourself is great advice! A great way to do it is to just take a deep breath and already have a way to deal with your own emotions when you encounter opposition.

    Thanks for reminding that people need to be told the ugly truth and how to deliver it the best.


  6. QwkDrw December 12, 2009 at 7:23 am - Reply

    Nicholas — Nice guest post. Definitely will check your blog.

    Cecillia — While some people may be able to rock the ‘greet them naked’ look, maybe often it’s not a good idea. Really do like the ‘brutally honest’ phrase.

    Annabel — (you wrote in last post) “… I write a blog schedule … otherwise my mind flits from one subject to another as randomly as a butterfly in a cottage garden …”.
    Enjoyed the ‘randomly as a butterfly in a cottage garden’ imagery. Sorry to be out of phase commenting on your posts. Blog schedules can clearly be valuable to others as well


  7. Lori December 12, 2009 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    Hi Nicholas!
    Wow – I recently discovered Annabel and am delighted to see you here! From a former Army chick’s point of view (me), it’s always great to connect with other servicemen (and women – if could find one! ha).

    Great advice here. I must admit, military life can be so, well, simply great. One pretty much knows where one stands all times, career advancement is very clear, and there’s really no emotion if the person in charge doesn’t like what’s going on. Orders are changed – bing botta boom!

    How do I share the ugly truth? It really depends on who is doing the sharing. I feel we must be chameleons and match the mood of the person we’re dealing with. The guidelines you shared were great, though, and mine aren’t that much different than what you listed.

    Be good, take care, and I’ll be seeing you around the ‘sphere soon!

  8. Steven December 13, 2009 at 9:21 am - Reply

    Great Advice Nicholas!

    you are very right about how not just only focus on the flaws on someone when you try to tell them the truth. Because I know people who do that and they just come off as nothing but a**holes. I mean maybe they are trying to help, but focusing so much on the other person’s flaws just blurs the intention even more!

    Anyway, thanks for the advice.

    But you know, how do you tell someone a horrible truth in which you know they will get mad at? What if you broke someone’s favorite pen and that is the horrible truth? Rather than just a blunt opinion.

    Hahahahahaaaa…it’s not like I broke someone’s pen…hahahaha….:(

  9. Annabel Candy December 14, 2009 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    Just catching up on these brilliant comments.

    Robin – It’s true if you’re being criticised that it’s important not to take it personally. Hard though! I always tell my kids I love you but I don’t like that behaviour and I suppose adults need to realise thus too. That being criticised for one thing doesn’t mean you’re a total write off in life.

    Scheng – I think criticism from family and friends is especially hard as we value their opinions more than anyone elses.

    Randall – I agree, we need to be tactful when giving criticism. There’s no point in deliberately hurting people’s feelings.

    Celia – Thanks for making me smile! The Jehovahs visit? I take their leaflets, say thanks and firm goodbye. Your boss’s haliotosis. Anonymous donations of fresh breath mints on his desk?

    Tomas – That’s so annoying when you know you’re right but they don’t believe it. But rather than get annoyed you have to try to shrug and let it go.

    QwkDrw – Thanks for stepping in and replying to the comments. I appreciate it as I got here a bit late this time! And I love the positive feedback on my writing. You can post those kind of comments anywhere:)

    Lori – It sounds as if this army training is really useful. Unfortunately it’s not a career option that appeals to sensitive types. I suppose you need to be tough to go into the services and you come out even tougher. I think I could have done with a bit more toughening up:)

    Steven – Haha, I think you are going to have to buy someone a new pen immediately and deliver it in person with a huge apology and a hug. That should appease them!

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