This past week, I’ve been in a couple situations when I needed to deliver a difficult message to someone. I’m talking about a message that cuts to the core of a person’s self-concept, something that they wouldn’t like to hear. They found out that their sense of reality and, more importantly, their sense of self was not quite accurate. I had information they didn’t have—information that ultimately had the potential to affect that person’s life course.
Anyone reading this blog will most likely have been in the same situation on occasion. It’s a difficult responsibility. It can be gut wrenching. Why? What makes it so hard to be honest with people about something so very important?
The answer is empathy. At one time or another, we have all been the receiver of such a message. Someone told you something that was true, but it hurt. It re-opened an old wound or perhaps even created one. Or, it gave you an insight into yourself that was embarrassing or deeply disappointing.
We hesitate to tell people the truth because the truth often hurts.
So what do we do instead? What is the typical leader’s way to deal with the difficulty of telling the truth? We shut up. We avoid the conversation and rationalize the avoidance with ideas like, “I see the problem. Perhaps someone else will, too, and tell him.” Or, “Mary is smart, I’m sure she already knows about this.” And, “They have a lot going on right now. I don’t want to add to their burdens.” By rationalizing the avoidance, the person continues down a path that minimizes their effectiveness and might even be self-destructive. We rob them of the potential to be greater.
Here is some truth: By avoiding that difficult conversation you might actually do more harm to that person and everyone else involved than the 3 minute conversation will have on your ego and his.
Tell the truth. Be loving and respectful, but stop protecting your comfortable emotional bubble and sit down for an honest, face-to-face conversation that might catalyze a dramatic turnaround for someone!