Can I be really honest with you?

Can I be really honest with you?

I was asked this question in a work situation this past week. I don’t know about you, but this is one of those questions that makes me dread what’s coming next.

Along with “Can we talk ASAP?”, and “Can I see you right away?”, “Can I be really honest with you?” is right up there with questions that are seldom followed by anything we want to hear.

This time was no different. I said, “Yes, of course!” then plastering on my game face, and putting up my armor, as this person was completely honest with me about what they were thinking.

Yuck.

I thought about this long and hard afterward. As a huge believer in honesty and acting with integrity, in theory I want others to be honest with me, and I with others, particularly those with whom I work closely, particularly with loved ones.

But do we always want this, in practice?

Hard to say. Sometimes, “Can I be really honest with you?” is a thin cover for those who just want to be mean spirited and insulting to us. C’mon, you know what I’m talking about - toxic personalities; particularly in the workplace; people who use the so-called honesty shield as a tool with which to try to take others down. That can be a real chess game to navigate.

At other times, do we even really want to know the honest feedback? Honesty can be painful. It makes us take a long, hard, realistic look at our flaws and foibles; even more painful when the honest feedback is coming from someone whose opinion we truly value.

That said, if we can come through the other side of hearing such honesty unscathed, we can experience major growth. This truly happens when honesty givers present their case to us with sensitivity, tact, and come from a place of constructive criticism, rather than wanting to tear us down.

Of course, it’s a joy when the honesty we hear is positive. Whether it’s love from someone we cherish, or great feedback from a boss or client, we will take that kind of honesty all day long. Tell me how awesome I am and how much you love me!

That’s why honest, constructive feedback is best received when the negative is sandwiched between positive comments. Start positive, get to what needs to be improved, then finish positive. Keep it constructive. Keep it attainable. Make me feel valued. Make me feel like my strong points far outweigh my flaws, and that you value me, despite these flaws. Do that, and I will move heaven and earth to maximize my strengths, while minimizing my weaknesses.

Do that, and you can be really honest with me.

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