Straight Talk: What is it and What Does it Sound Like?
I’m struck by how much people don’t say. They hint, insinuate, tiptoe, sugar coat, say half-truths, silence, manipulate, annihilate, etc., yet few actually directly state (respectfully) what’s going on for them.
When I talk with clients about saying things directly, they almost immediately start to get anxious. Many people don’t want to “be mean,” get into a fight or be perceived as hard to get along with. In an effort to avoid these appearances, they become inauthentic or foggy at best. When they’re not clear about what they’re trying to say, people don’t know what they’re saying. And this lack of clarity leaves people guessing. Then, when they guess wrong, we get annoyed, angry and frustrated.
Speaking honestly about something is mean only if we speak it in a mean way. If we are clean in how we speak (respectful, calm, compassionate), then our truth is often a gift. This is true in even the most difficult of conversations such as those in struggling marriages. Saying it straight in a struggling marriage might sound like: “Honey, I’m worried about us. I don’t feel loved, desired or even liked by you anymore. I find myself not wanting to come home and cringing when you touch me. I’m worried that if we don’t get help -- and fast -- that we won’t make it. I’m worried that I’m going to turn to someone else for the affection I want from you and I don’t want to be one of those women who has affairs to escape the loneliness of her marriage. I need us to get into therapy. I need things to change or we won’t make it.”
Many people will read the above and be shocked by how direct it is. They will think they could never say that because they wouldn’t want to hurt someone with those words.
What many don’t see is all the people I’ve worked with who had these exact thoughts in their head, but never spoke them. They don’t see how these same people did end up having an affair, only to later blame their partner for being so distant. Being hurtful or mean is knowing you’re on the verge of leaving, walling off or giving up, yet not speaking...other than to throw out empty threats. Being mean is acting out your upset via an affair, tirade or silent wall rather than talking about it.
Regardless of whether we’re talking about romantic, work or friendship relationships, not being honest – in the guise of protecting someone’s feelings -- often ends up hurting the very relationships we think we’re protecting. If you’re not happy about how your boss spoke to you, say it straight (“Mr. Jones, I will make sure to follow up on the call you brought to my attention and I want you to know that how you spoke to me in the meeting was not okay with me.”) If your friend was deceptive, address the issue head on (“Samantha, I don’t like the way you took credit for my idea at work. Your behavior was deceptive and has really hurt my trust in you.”).
Addressing issues in a direct, respectful way is a gift to you as well as to the person you’re speaking with. Don’t pretend things are okay if they’re not and don’t avoid a topic because it’s too uncomfortable to address. Don’t muddy the waters with a watered down message that’s so hard to decipher that you don’t even know what you’re saying. Be a grown up and say it straight. Trust that you can handle difficult conversations.
Challenge: Be determined to speak authentically about your upsets, regardless of who is at their center. Speak your message in a direct, clean way and trust you can handle it. Pay attention to what happens within you and in response to you when you do this with respect.