Honesty-Pathway to Wise Communication

Honesty-Pathway to Wise Communication

“Now, you sound like your mom!” or “You’re pretty sharp for a country kid”. Do you easily utter opinions like these? Honest opinions, indeed, but perhaps considered slightly condescending. An article described Microaggression--opinions which names everyday slights, put-downs and subtle indignities that marginalized people have to deal with such as, “You speak English very well”, the hearer assuming that they aren’t a native English-speaker. Taken as a negative.

Probably, all of us have inadvertently offended someone rather than being complimentary. Communication upgrades advance quickly to the front of my counselor-file. When I shared with a friend blog ideas on honesty in communication, she said, “I think being brutally honest wrecks communication rather than helps.” A good point. Anyone being hurtfully honest in expressing unsolicited opinions certainly does douse communication with cold water replacing it with hurt, fear, anger or disgust—take your pick. Perfecting the communication skill of being kindly honest is wise, but requires astute attention.

One of my favorite meant-well observations occurred 40 years ago when close friends we hadn’t seen for a several months came for dinner, I observed silently that Sally looked pregnant. While I was preparing last minute details, she sat down at the piano and played a few tunes. Then, at dinner I asked excitedly, “How far along are you? Sally replied, “I started lessons last week with Rita King.”  “Oh, nice.” Close call.

You’ve probably heard the old joke-story about a mother coaching her apprehensive early-teen son as he got ready to attend his first school dance with “Johnny, it’s up to you to ask a girl to dance, because girls are supposed to wait until they’re asked. Then, thank her for the dance by saying something nice to her.”  He stored his mother’s instructions carefully in his nervous mind as he joined his friends.  Everyone was pairing up and he finally got up courage to ask the girl who was standing close-by.  His dancing was pretty awkward but she didn’t seem to mind. ‘Say something nice’, he recalled his mom advising.  He blurted,” For a chunky girl you sure don’t sweat much”.  He meant well, but she didn’t take it as a compliment.

Catapult to honesty within relationships: spouse, child, sibling, co-worker, friend, neighbor, clerk, rep or phone-solicitor. Being kindly honest happens if we think ahead before we speak of how a person, seen or unseen, might hear our words. This caution hinges on the design of the speaker, whether Head-Logic (Thinker) or Heart Logic (Feeler). Thinkers and Feelers are innately geared to translate words differently.

Feelers’   goal is harmony, avoid hurting feelings, preferring peace at any cost.

Thinkers’ goal is trust and respect,   expressing facts and truth, despite the cost.

When a heart-logic (Feeler) expresses a request or gives an opinion to a head-logic (Thinker) and he/she doesn’t respond, the Feeler assumes the Thinker disagrees or is not in favor of the request. Silence to a Feeler is disapproval.

Conversely, when a head-logic (Thinker) mentions what he/she is going to buy or do and the Feeler listener does not respond, the Thinker assumes his/her projection is a “yes”.  Silence to a Thinker is approval. Often, the Thinker buys or does without announcement expecting approval after the fact.

When a soft-hearted spouse feeling ignored or mistreated, in all honesty says to a Thinker, “Why are you treating me this way?” The Thinker will probably use parental words he/she didn’t want to hear and the feeler will likely end up with hurt feelings.  A wiser path for the Feeler would be asking, “I wonder if I’ve said or done something wrong”. The Thinker will most likely say, “I am not mad at you but have a lot on my mind.”  Thinkers rarely respond with “I am sorry”.  They are, but they just do not find it a natural response.

Expressing honest ‘wonderings’ nearly always works.  Using the parental ‘You—should or shouldn’t’ or ‘you never or always’–war words--rarely works smoothly and often invites a word battle with tearful results.

When Feelers question a Thinker with “Why didn’t you call me?” the Thinker may retort quickly, “Are you my mother or boss?” or “Why must I call?”.  I learned this lesson from Jim when I complained, “We’ve waited dinner for you; what took you so long?” He said, “I’ve been busy”.  And then added “From now on, expect me when you see me.” That hurt my feelings, but from then on, I fed the kids on time and visited with him as he ate warmed-over meals. Since I was studying the wisdom of using ‘I’ statements, I reframed my greeting the next time to, an ‘I’ statement--“I’m so glad you’re home; I was concerned”, to which he supplied the reason, “I was caught in traffic.”  But, amazingly, after that, if he was going to be late and anywhere near a phone, he called. Always. Thinkers change their behavior when they decide.

A guideline used in communication skills counseling is “What you say isn’t necessarily what the other person hears, So, practice repeating what you heard the other person say, especially if a disagreement is brewing. Embracing kindly honest communication is also beneficial for encouraging others to adjust communication styles. Jim and I enjoyed helping each other delete ‘you’ statements which are offensive and parental rather than adult.  Choosing non-offensive adult ‘I’ statements when disagreeing elicits unplanned smiles.

Kindly honest communication is a wise pathway to good relationships by attacking the problem rather than the person’s character who accidently caused the spill or break. All of us can look back on our child hood when we broke something accidently and were called names like, doppy, reckless or accused of not listening, not caring about others’ possessions or violating rules. Character-assassinations damage self-esteem and may injure for years.

When you hold an honest opinion that you think will be rejected by your group, think ahead about ways you could say “I am not a fan of such and such a restaurant”, “I am not ready to share my opinion.” “I would like for all the clutter be picked up in the living room”, “This is not a good time for me to discuss finances.”, “I am ready to go”, rather than “Aren’t you ready, yet?” “I’m tired of football all the time”, rather than “All you do is watch football.”  Rather than “Straighten your room right now”, teens and younger kids respond better to “I’d like your room straightened by 5”, “I want the Legos put away before your TV show”. Using ‘I’ messages and giving long dead-lines is authoritative rather than authoritarian.  Children automatically learn that skill from parents and teachers. Akin to learning a new language.

When I was addressing large audiences of women who were chatting loudly, I followed Haim Ginott’s suggestion of merely saying into the mic “I am ready to begin”.  Observing rumbling voices rippling into quiet waves almost made me laugh. It worked at school in the music room of 7th graders beating their drums and blowing their horns and all that noise subsided when I said “I am ready to begin.”  As a substitute, I had little authority. That’s why I call ‘I’ statements magic ‘I’ statements.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make very effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.… Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  Eph 4:2-3, 15 (NIV)

For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Prov. 2:6 (NIV)

We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. James 3:2 (NIV)

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. James 3:17-18 (NIV)

Enjoy Thanksgiving as you consider the blessings of all our freedoms which lead very nicely into         Thanks-living where we consider the needs and feelings of others and do what we can to make this world a better place despite the coronavirus. Give thanks to the Lord; for He is good. Ps 118:29