Positive truth and relationship building activities go hand-in hand.
*Throwback Billy is very, very wise*
Billy Joel had it right- honesty can be such a lonely word. Our quest for honesty is an important one, and not always an easy road. Honesty can require bravery, tempered with humility, imparted with a gentle touch. It's not easy thing, and it often CAN be a very lonely word when you're faced with it.
However, it doesn't have to be. Years ago, I had a friend (let's call him Jack) that crossed that honesty line. Under the guise of being honest, he said lots of hurtful things about me, my work, and my personal relationships. Any time I remotely objected to something he had to say, he would chastise me for my feelings, saying "I'm just being honest!" ("You kind of gave a lousy performance- I'm just being honest!" "You're really flighty- I'm just being honest!" "Your boyfriend is a jerk- I'm just being honest!") It seemed he was using his truth-telling as a get-out-of-jail-free card- how could anyone object to his hurtful thoughts when they were born from one of humankind's most revered values?
This is not to say that everything needs to be sugar-coated- there are times for brutal honesty. Sometimes, we need to lay it all out on the line, especially if someone is in danger of harming themselves or others (physically OR emotionally). Currently, I have a friend (let's call her Cindy) who prides herself on being able to help and guide her friends and colleagues with an honest hand. The difference is, Cindy recognizes that unless someone is on fire, there is a way to be honest without being needlessly cruel or hurtful. Cindy is familiar with what we at Ovation refer to as the "positive truth".
The idea of "positive truth" centers around one major principal- be honest, but find the positivity in the situation. This requires not only thought and attention, but an observance of the other Emily Post Institute tenets of etiquette- consideration and respect. So, how can we work towards always sharing the positive truth, in both our personal and business relationships? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Does it need to be said?: Whether a colleague asks what you thought of a presentation, or how they look in their new suit, take a moment and think- does this need to be said? Your colleague doesn't need a Simon Cowell-worthy assessment of her presentation- she needs help! And when it comes to appearance, your co-worker wants an opinion, not a crushing blow. Jack's default would have been to go for the jugular- "Your presentation was awful- I'm just being honest!" Unfortunately, this is a quick way to shut someone down emotionally who could probably just use your help.
2. Highlight the POSITIVE!: Perhaps your colleague told a smashing personal business story, or looks fantastic in pinstipes . Bring the positive forward first! In these situations, Cindy would praise the good things, before stepping forward to offer any other thoughts- "I so enjoyed that story you told! Well done to you!" or "You certainly know how to rock a pinstripe!" That will help you connect with the person on a positive level.
3. What will help?: Bear in mind, looking for the positive truth doesn't mean we sidestep important things like constructive criticism- we don't shy away from the difficult parts of honesty, but we do need to present them in a positive light. For example, your colleague clearly needs (and wants!) help with her presentation- after highlighting the positive, approach the subject with consideration and respect: "I so enjoyed that story you told! It truly brought YOU to the presentation. You know, I would be glad to team up with you on rehearsals for your next presentation- we could focus on things like volume and dealing with stage fright. I think with a little practice, they could be just as great as that story you told. Would that help you?" And your comments about your co-workers pinstripes are probably sufficient in that situation. (However, you might want to tell them about the image consultant that you love!)
Approaching all of your relationships with consideration and respect will help you embrace the positive truth. And when your colleagues and friends know they can bank on your truth-without-cruelty, suddenly honesty is no longer such a lonely word.
How do you look for the positive truth? Let us know in the comments!