Whether you have to initiate a break up, tell your roommate you're moving out, or let your best friend know what you really think of her new friend, you want the conversation — no matter how difficult — to go well. This means it's important be mindful of the ways to be less hurtful when being honest. Just because you're discussing a sensitive topic doesn't mean someone has to leave the conversation feeling badly about themselves, and knowing how to communicate can help salvage your relationships and get your point across.
"When you share your honest feelings, you have to do it with sensitivity because most likely, you are going to discuss something that is difficult for the other person to hear," says therapist Rhonda Milrad, LCSW over email. "If you are too harsh, the other person will become defensive. They may shut down, project their shame onto you, become argumentative, blame you etc. and not be able to take in any of what you are saying. Your message will be lost."
Everyone has a different level of honesty they are comfortable with, but regardless of how sugar coated someone prefers to hear things, there are a number of tactics that can make a hard conversation easier with anyone. Here are 11 ways to be less hurtful when being honest.
1Think About Your Goal
Before you begin the conversation, think about what your underlying need is when wanting to have this conversation. "Come from a stance of wanting to express your feelings and discuss the concern, rather than wanting to be right and that's the end of the story," says therapist Carolyn Cole, LCPC, LMFT, NCC over email. "This includes listening to the feedback the other person shares."
2Use A Gentle Start-Up
Instead of jumping in to the meat of the conversation, use a gentle start-up to begin. Say something like, "There's something I wanted to talk to you about." "If you start off the conversation throwing frustrations at them, they are going to become defensive," says Cole.
3Mention Some Positives
"People can often hear criticism better if it's delivered between two sincere compliments," says therapist Kongit Farrell, MA, LMFT over email. "A compliment first lowers defenses so that the criticism is received more easily, and a compliment at the end softens the blow. The most important thing to consider here is that the 'sandwich' be delivered with warmth and kindness and that the compliments are truly positive things about the person."
4Pick A Good Time
It is best to find a time to talk when things are calm and where you're both in a comfortable and equal position. "Sharing your honest feelings when you are both activated and in the throws of intensity never goes well," says Milrad. "In fact, it often elevates things further. Hold your tongue and wait for the right time and place when the other person is more open and available to hear what you have to say."
5Use "I" Statements
Instead of starting all your statements with an accusatory "you," start your statements with "I," which helps you take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings. Say something like, "I feel hurt that you forgot our anniversary," not "You didn't care about our anniversary. "You are owning your feelings while pointing out the other person's behavior," says therapist Jim Seibold, PhD LMFT over email.
6Pay Attention To Your Tone
Be aware of your tone or any non verbal behaviors you may be exhibiting. "You want to present as calm, open, and concerned in order to move towards discussion rather than angry, frustrated, or closed off, which may more towards an argument," says Cole.
7Share Your Own Vulnerability
When giving honest feedback, it can be helpful to share your own feelings about giving the feedback, which can help make the conversation feel less like an attack. "You can say things such as, 'This is hard for me to say, but I feel it's important' or 'This is a delicate matter to bring up but I need you to know this,'" says therapist Karol Ward, LCSW over email. You can also bring in instances in which you've been in the same position to help the person relate.
8Validate Their Feelings
Let the person know that however they may feel about this information is okay. "Understand that the person may get upset with you regarding your honesty," says therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW over email. "Let them know it’s okay as they are entitled to their feelings."
9Avoid Extreme Words
"Using words like always, never, forever, or any variation of these can result in your partner hearing your comment in a more critical way than you intended," says Milrad. "It is better to use language that is more flexible —such as, often, sometimes, occasionally, etc. — which allows your partner to feel that you can see the variation in their behavior."
10Don't Bring Others Into The Conversation
Avoid bringing other people's opinions into the conversation. "Only share your own feelings and observations," says Milrad. "Don’t try and build your point by piling on the opinions of others. Although you think it may bolster what you are saying and have a bigger impact, it feels attacking to the recipient. In fact, one can feel betrayed and hurt that you are discussing them behind their back with other people."
11Be Clear About What You Mean
Try to avoid being too vague in your attempts to lessen the blow. "The more you try to 'soften' your words in order to avoid hurting feelings, the more likely you are to confuse the message," says Seibold. "For example, when breaking up, someone might say 'I am just not ready to date right now' or 'This is just not a good time for me.' Instead of hearing that the relationship is over, the listener is likely to hear that a relationship is possible later if they are just patient."