COMMENTARY 777.5: Motive, Tact, Tone, Timing

Trustworthiness is essential to good relationships, and honesty is essential to trustworthiness. Being honest isn’t simply telling the truth, though. It’s also being sincere and forthright. Thus, it’s just as dishonest to deceive someone by half-truths or silence as it is to lie.

But what if honesty requires us to volunteer information that could be damaging or hurtful?

For example, should you say something when a coworker begins to dress or act in a way that’s generating ridicule and damaging his or her credibility? What if you discover your friend’s husband is having an affair? Do you tell your brother bad things you know about a woman he’s getting involved with?

It’s easy to rationalize silence in such volatile situations because it’s less dangerous for you. Telling hard truths, however well-intended, can seriously damage relationships. On the other hand, silence can be viewed as a betrayal of trust if it’s later discovered that you withheld information.

When considering conveying a hard truth, and the principles of honesty, respect, and caring are in conflict, there’s no single right thing to do. In such moments, heed these four critical factors:

  1. Motive. Be sure and pure about your reasons. Your intentions must be honorable, and you must have the well-being of your friend at heart. It’s not about you.
  2. Tact. Choose and prepare your words carefully. If necessary, rehearse to lessen the chance that you’ll speak impulsively or inappropriately.
  3. Tone. When speaking, avoid self-righteousness or accusations.
  4. Timing. Pick a place and time that will lend itself to a frank interchange.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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