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How to tell the truth without jeopardizing a relationship? It’s an age-old question.

You’ve been there. You have to tell someone you’re firing them for poor performance. You need to correct your child. You really should tell your co-worker about the dumb things he says that alienate the boss. Someone asks you for a reference that you can’t honestly give. Your supervisor makes your life miserable with needless tasks, but you are afraid to say anything because he might take it out on you. You’re mentoring someone who won’t take your well-meant feedback.

How to tell the truth without jeopardizing a relationship? It’s an age-old question.

Because it’s so hard to tell others the negative truth about them, most of us avoid it. We go along to get along. We avoid moments of truth. One spouse in a marriage concluded they’d never iron things out between them so he decided not to engage and suck it up, thereby avoiding outward conflict. Sometimes people get the hint. Usually, they don’t. Usually, there’s just one way in — through the front door. And most of us would rather submit to a root canal without anesthetic before having a dreaded showdown.

Flipping the question is instructive. Suppose you’re the one who needs to hear legitimate criticism. Are you willing to hear sincere and helpful criticism? Do we allow, let alone invite others to tell us the truth about ourselves?

Very, very few people are vulnerable enough and honest enough to take criticism, be it ever so well-meant, completely true, and brought to us in diplomatic and loving words by someone we dearly respect. No one likes to hear they made a stupid mistake, offended someone or merely have bad breath?

The finite few who can take criticism and deal with it positively succeed in their relationships. These rare souls have subdued their egos and pride. Pride is the brittle shield protecting our self-concept and defending us from admitting failure and suffering embarrassment. If our identity is founded in being good-looking, our pride censors contrary opinions. It’s the same with being smart or strong or good or even humble. Pride defends our misguided, selfish ego. Left to itself, the ego will subvert any virtue by becoming prideful about it.

We deceive ourselves in thinking that pride will hide the weaknesses we fear disclosing and will justify us when we’re wrong; it will help us save face.

But pride is false; it doesn’t tell the truth. Pride is our great enemy masquerading as our protector, the agent of our self-deception.

Recently, I saw the dramatic consequences of my failure to tell the truth to someone and the truly beneficial outcome when it came out. The benefits to me and many others have been remarkable, far greater than I could have imagined. Avoiding it hurt some people and helped no one, although it kept an awkward peace. Truly, “the truth shall make you free.” Matt. 8:32.

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Telling others the truth can be risky. It can hurt feelings, spark defensive behavior, even start a fight. But if done sincerely, with proper motive and as diplomatically as possible, I promise it will most often bring great benefits to all parties. Not everyone will accept what we say, nor is there a guarantee against adverse consequences. But I have discovered, again, that the benefits of telling the truth are so liberating and helpful that I am committed to tell the truth, when and as appropriate, and I invite and accept others to tell me the truth I need to hear.

As author Timothy Ferriss said, “A person's success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”