Perhaps you have watched the blockbuster hit movie, A Few Good Men with Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise. If so, you certainly remember the “you can’t handle the truth” courtroom scene with the dress down Nicholson gives Tom Cruise’s character.

Telling the truth is difficult. I am sure you have struggled with it. Think about the following questions:

Who have you asked for feedback lately?

What have they told you?

How did they tell you?

Did they tell you what you wanted to hear or did they tell you the truth?

We have all been conditioned from an early age to stretch the truth and in some cases outright lie which makes it more difficult to be honest when we are asked for our honest opinions.

I bet you have stretched the truth when asked questions like these:

How was your meal?

How do you like my hair?

Do these jeans make me look big?

How do you like my picture?

What do you think of my speech?

Why we don’t tell the truth?

The most obvious reason is we don’t want to hurt someone. It is also because sometimes the other person doesn’t really want the truth, they just want confirmation for a “truth” they are living or hope to obtain.

That distinction is very important.

I remember years ago while attending a conference for my professional association – the National Speakers Association. One of the speakers was a beautiful young lady. After her very mediocre speech, she asked my friend Bruce for feedback. He told her, “You looked beautiful up there.” She blushed, thanked him, and walked away feeling great. I asked Bruce why he didn’t tell her the truth and he said, “Because she didn’t want to hear it.” He knew her well enough to know that her feelings would be very hurt if he had been truthful.

Fast forward several years and now Bruce has a mantra when he is asked to provide feedback. It’s simply this, “Do you want me to be honest or nice?” It may be a bit blunt but I love it that he gives the receiver a choice.

My mantra is a slightly different and it’s this, “Tell the truth in love.” Here’s how:

  • Repeat the person’s request for feedback to make sure you understand what kind of feedback they want.
  • Thoughtfully pause and think about how you can be truthful with kindness and love.
  • Choose your words carefully. For example, instead of saying “That didn’t make any sense!” rephrase that comment to “I think I need a little help understanding. I wonder if you might be willing to explain it to me again?”


Maybe you can handle telling the truth after all.

#pause #Leadershipdevelopment #tellthetruth

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