We’ve all met people who claim to be brutally honest. They pride themselves on telling it like it is and taking a no-holds-barred approach to business and personal interactions.
But what these forthright folks hail as an asset is actually poor social skills masked by a veil of bravado. They make a habit of trampling people’s emotions, creating a trail of wounded relationships wherever they go.
Brutally honest people tend to be highly intelligent and possess excellent verbal skills. They hold strong personal convictions that they are eager to espouse whenever they can.
Unfortunately, these bright folks have little tact. They don’t care how others are impacted by what they say. They run roughshod over psyches with their hard-hitting verbiage and express minimal concern when they learn their words have caused pain.
Brutally honest people are also easily agitated. They respond to seemingly minor incidents with outrage, then vent that anger with an aggressive tongue-lashing from which the targeted person has little chance of escape.
Brutally honest people feel justified in their behavior. They usually recognize when they’ve hurt others’ feelings. They may even express remorse for what they’ve said or done. Still, they defend their right to state the truth as they see it.
“I hate being lied to,” one self-professed brutally honest person told me. “And I make it a point to let others know where I stand at all times.”
Such bull-in-a-china-shop behavior makes brutally honest folks challenging to be around. Their argumentative natures and hair-trigger tempers keep loved ones on edge.
Their verbal attacks can turn a pleasant event into mayhem without a moment’s notice.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that brutally honest people are usually attracted to mild-mannered partners who have social skills to share. These tactful, easy-going men and women are able to soothe their mates’ agitation and prevent minor disruptions from getting out of hand. Unfortunately, they frequently find themselves the brunt of their spouses’ wrath. Such rampages are exhausting and take their toll on intimacy and emotional bonding. Still, these partners are generally adept at either sidestepping the onslaught or minimizing its impact, and usually report satisfying relationships with their ever-so-blunt mates.
Of course, sometimes it’s important that we all stand up for ourselves. We must strike back and assume a protective posture. Perhaps we’re expressing a controversial viewpoint at a town hall meeting. We may be defending ourselves in court. Most of us avoid these moments at all costs. We make the encounters as brief as possible. We contain collateral damage as best we can. We dread the possibility of it happening again.
Most brutally honest people are blessed with countless personal assets. Their conviction, drive and verbal skills make them successful in whatever they set out to do. Still, adding tact and self-control to the equation makes them easier to be around. Everyone benefits from that.
How to use tact rather than attack
Do others tell you that you’re brutally honest? Do they report that you’re difficult to be around? Then try these suggestions to curb your aggression and make life easier for everyone at home:
• Recognize when you’re angry. Brutal honesty gets worse when you’re hot under the collar. Notice signs of agitation, such as clenched fists, aggressive posturing or a raised voice. Tuning into these symptoms helps you reclaim self-control.
• Back away from a stressful situation. Your tendency is to dive head-first into the fracas. But that urge creates problems for you and everyone around you. Give yourself permission to disengage from a conflict. You’ll save yourself from lots of embarrassment. Others will rest easier, too.
• Keep your mouth closed. You’ve always got an opinion. You can bring others to their knees with a few choice verbal zingers. But your words get you into trouble. It’s best sometimes if you don’t talk. Bite your lip. Leave the room if you must. Don’t engage in the conversation while you’re in an agitated state.
• Wait until you’re calm before speaking. Take a few deep breaths. Think quiet thoughts. Relax your hands. Calm down before you address the specific problem. Repeat the relaxation process as often as necessary.
• Choose your words carefully.
If you want to improve your relationships, use words that reflect your care and concern. Let others know you adore them. Tell them you want to be a good partner. Let go of criticism. Avoid sweeping generalizations. Focus on positive statements that make others feel loved.
• Apologize when you need to. In spite of your best intentions you’ll occasionally fall back into old patterns. Say you’re sorry. Analyze what went wrong. Then go forward determined to be the tactful person you truly want to be.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com