“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Did you ever hear that one growing up? Have you been known to say that to your own children?
In the past few weeks, I have been sitting in some really tough conversations. Both in my work a coach, and also as a consultant and unofficial "mediator" to business leaders.
Hands down, those tough conversations are the ones that have the most magic. But it doesn't always feel like it at the time.
The difficult feedback we never thought we'd receive.
A challenge to something we thought we had completely under control.
A request to relinquish some duties, because someone else's skill set lends better to getting it done.
Wasn't blissful ignorance so much easier to deal with?!
Children are often famous for being truth tellers.
"Look daddy, that man is fat."
"You smell bad."
"Why are you wearing an ugly shirt?"
But somewhere along the line, it seems we take to heart that we ought not say things that are not nice. We best avoid hurting other people's feelings.
And then we're surprised to find ourselves in a really complicated relationship with the truth.
It's natural. At our core, I believe we all try to do the right thing. We try not to cause harm. To ourselves or to others. With this, it can be difficult to know when is the time to say the thing that's hard to say but that may need to be heard, and when to hold back and leave that for someone else to come upon in their own time.
The answer to this question depends on many factors, and I couldn't possibly assess them all here, nor address them in the context of the facts that may surround your current predicament.
What I will suggest however, is that the more we work on building trust in our relationships, the more easily we will be able to deliver as well as receive information that might be hard to digest.
Everything else grows from there.
If there is a storyline behind your holding back that says "I'm scared this person will leave/reject me/feel rejected if I tell the truth", then it may be that trust is already fractured.
Perhaps then, it's important to prioritise work on the relationship itself, rather than the other thing.
To address the context, rather than the content.
The human spirit is magnificent. We’re all over-comers, whether we like to acknowledge that or not. Trust is not just about letting go of the fear of hurting people, but believing in their ability to receive difficult information and move forward with it in a life affirmative way.
After all, sometimes a little friction is needed to reorient our perspective a little closer to that of reality.
Heck, I know like the rest of us how easy it is to get caught up in your own patterns, your own bubble, and miss things. I'm so grateful to those who were brave enough to tell me the truth over the years. That holds true whether I took on board the advice or not.
(Sometimes being told your goals are unreasonable produces unreasonable levels of motivation...!)
We need each other. We humans are interdependent. The more we can practice deeper, constructive ways of being interdependent, the further we can grow together. The more deeply we can trust and be trusted.
One of the common pieces of feedback I hear from my clients is that their interpersonal relationships have become easier since we started our work. Mainly because communication flows more openly, naturally.
I suspect the reason for this is that through being in a coaching relationship where we both commit to our full 100% of our 50% of the relationship and put everything on the table to be explored, even (especially!) the edgy stuff, this helps reinforce a sense of self-trust. This is about trusting ourselves to stay in relationship, even when its hard. To not abandon the other, nor ourselves.
This was the experience for one of my clients, let's call him "Luke", who found that dating became a much more enjoyable experience. One of the surprising aspects for him was finding it easier to say no to a subsequent date when he wasn't feeling the vibe on the first one. Luke did this gracefully, without feeling a sense of guilt.
It takes courage to speak the truth as you see it. It takes practise to deliver it in a tactful and kind way.
It takes a willingness to be messy, to get uncomfortable.
That discomfort is most likely because you care (which is why strangers often make better truth tellers...).
With that, know that if it feels weird, you're probably doing it right.
If this message brings to light something challenging in your relational sphere , know that I am walking the path with you. I'm also finding my messy way through some difficult and vulnerable interactions, both personally and professionally.
It can be tough stuff. And also the most magical, transformative stuff.
Thank you for showing up.
Keep showing up.
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