How To Be Honest With Somebody Without It Leading to Conflict

Honest communication is a double- edged sword. On the one hand, it can clarify murky matters, encourage trust and provide more intimacy and credibility to any kind of relationship. On the other hand, it can really upset somebody if you tell them bluntly what you think about them or something they have done.

It’s hard to find the right balance between expressing yourself authentically and doing it in a way that doesn’t hurt the other person.

Honesty in the context of conflict resolution is about clarity. Conflict is worsened when we don’t understand the reasons for a certain behaviour. We tend to create our own perceptions of why somebody is not talking to us, why they didn’t fulfil our expectations and why we are not to blame for it. It also comes from a place of vulnerability which by default, requires honesty.

This blog explains how you can be more honest in your relationships so that you can avoid misunderstandings.

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Honesty in Conflict

When I talk about being honest in conflict, here is what I mean:

  • Telling somebody how you feel (in any context);
  • Letting somebody know what you want or don’t want;
  • Establishing boundaries and expressing which types of behaviour you find acceptable
  • Discussing your perceptions about a person’s behaviour;
  • Divulging information that might help you both find a solution to resolve your conflict.

If you are being honest with yourself in conflict, this can also take the form of your motivations. Asking yourself questions such as “what do I want to achieve from this?” will help you decide what action to take.  You should also take an honest look at your conflict considerations.

How to Lessen the Blow of Honesty

I used to find it hard to express my needs and emotions to men in senior positions. That made it hard to progress in my career or have genuinely intimate, romantic relationships. It’s difficult to be honest about these things when you have learnt that it can be dangerous or it’s not acceptable for a woman to express herself in this way. I always felt that I would be perceived as too demanding or aggressive. It made me feel angry that I had to suppress this part of myself and subordinate my needs below a man’s. That was based on my own, learned behaviours and perceptions.

To make this easier, I’ve learnt that honesty is best received when cushioned with empathy for yourself and others.

Empathy is what acknowledges that words can hurt, no matter what your intentions are in expressing them. We’ve all received feedback that hurts, despite the person intending to help you improve your performance. We’ve also all been rejected and so we all know how much it can sting, long after the event.

When delivering an honest message, I often cushion it with empathy and what helps is to imagine that I am sending it to somebody I care about (even if I don’t). You won’t ever be able to control their reaction to you but you can do your best to communicate it in a way that minimises the risk of conflict.

Underlying all of this is your intention. Using empathy to express yourself will never include insults, even thinly veiled. It will never allow you to disrespect, undermine, condescend or use arrogance. All it does is connect us as human beings, to our emotions. This is my most powerful conflict resolution tool.

A sincere apology is a great example of this.

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Here are some phrases that might help you:

  1. Can I be honest with you about something?
  2. I feel hesitant to say this to you because I don’t want to hurt you;
  3. I am finding it hard to find the words to be honest with you about how I am feeling;
  4. It’s important for me to be honest with you about this and I don’t intend in any way to disrespect you. My intention is ….;
  5. I am being honest with you about this because I respect you and I don’t want you to misunderstand how much I value our relationship;
  6. I understand that you feel […] about what I just said. I really need you to know how I see things and I want to make sure we work out how best to resolve this.

When I give honest feedback, I don’t like to use positive examples of performance or silver linings unless I genuinely mean them. Some messages need to be delivered and that’s all there is to it. When we put an artificially positive spin on it, it’s a way of avoiding the discomfort of telling hard truths and it can be confusing.

Instead, a sincere attempt to communicate from a place of truth that clears the air, builds better relationships, and encourages openness will reduce the chances of conflict. To get to that place, you need to be comfortable with your own truth. That’s a whole different blog post (coming soon!)

As always, please feel free to comment !

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