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Speaking Hard Truths Without Sounding Like a Jerk

Speaking Hard Truths Without Sounding Like a Jerk

Throughout my life, I’ve been one to have a hard time with words. It’s not that I have nothing to say, but rather that I tend to say whatever I think. Kind or not. Hurtful or not. Helpful or not.

My theory was that there was no need to mince words. I couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t just “tell it like it is,” and when there was something that I was thinking, I would just blurt it out. Just like that. In all its cutting down, tearing apart and hurtful glory. Nothing to soften the blow. Nothing to show that I was saying it out of love or care.

Nothing to show my own humility in the matter.

Sure, maybe sometimes there were things I needed to discuss and truth that needed to be spoken, but the problem was that I did not say it in a kind, positive or uplifting way. I didn’t say it in a way that helped. I said it in a way that hurt.

While often there may be a lot of truth to what we have to say, it took me a while to learn (and I continue to learn) that we can’t just say anything.

The Hard Truth

I think it first hit me when I realized that I didn’t appreciate when people told me things straight up. I knew people in my life who would say things in a very blunt and straightforward manner as well as people who would state their opinions in a very kind and positive way.

Throughout different encounters I remember realizing that the ones who had spoken to me in a blunt fashion left me feeling defeated, while the ones who said the same thing in a kind and thoughtful way left me feeling energized to improve myself.

Understandably, I found it was a lot more enjoyable to spend time with people who couched one or two negative comments and constructive criticisms with a lot more positive comments, rather than those who would only mention the negative about me.

The Power of Words

The Bible talks a lot about the power of our words:

Proverbs 12:18 says, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

We can all understand that. Blunt words can feel like swords straight to the heart at times.

And in contrast, Proverbs 16:24 states: “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.”

The best way to share your opinion or to give constructive criticism is to use the sandwich method:

First you say positive things about the person, telling them what you appreciate about them and what you like. Next, for the sandwich filling, you kindly state something that you would appreciate being done differently. The last piece of the sandwich should once again be more kind and positive things.

It allows the person is able to see—and hear—that the person criticizing genuinely appreciates and cares for them and that there are many more things about them that they like than that they dislike. Whereas saying it like it really is leaves the person feeling frustrated and hurt while creating distance between both people.

As a general rule people will do more than asked when they feel appreciated, but when only the negative is emphasized, we feel like “why even try?”

We tend to feel so justified by what we want to say (and we may be right), but that does not mean that we should just launch nuclear warfare against another person.

Soft Answers

The wisest man that ever lived, King Solomon, had a lot to say about the tongue, and we would be wise to listen in: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.” Proverbs 15:1 

“Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

You can still say what you need to say and get your point across. The key is in how you go about it.

So I’ll leave you with this favorite quote of mine:

We are either building up or tearing down in everything we do. Are you on the construction gang, or on the wrecking crew?

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