Not only was it the first Friday of the quarter, it was sunny out. We are not talking summer sunny as in it's 70 degrees. It's freezing, in the 40s, but it's glorious. There is a sun, and it's shining in Spokane!
Yet this Friday was a little different. As I was getting ready to leave my classroom, a student was still in class. This is someone I've had for several quarters, like, and feel has great potential. As the student was gathering their things and preparing to also leave, they commented, "please give me feedback about (fill in the blank). You give brutal honesty and are known for that."
Now understand that this is a paraphrase and perhaps not their exact wording. However what is exact are the words brutal honesty.
Frankly, I was stunned.
More than that, I was speechless.
Now please understand that I am not writing this post to in any way disparage the student.
They were just putting their own truth out there.
This was their experience of me.
Do I imagine that their interpretation of these two words "brutal honesty" fits mine exactly?
After all, I have taught communication skills for more than 40 years.
Word choice is personal and words often do not mean the same thing from one person to the next. I was too stunned at the time to simply say, "I wonder what you mean by that?"
I may, in fact, ask that question on Monday. Yet in that classroom moment on Friday I was left with a hollow feeling that I may have a "blind spot" about how my honesty impacts others.
It left me to thinking.
Truthfully, the word honesty doesn't surprise me. Over the years I have found myself
being more truthful, even when it isn't popular. But what others may not know, and often goes unseen, is that before I utter a word I have often spent hours thinking about how I would say something to someone that was at once telling the truth and yet is kind in it's approach.
In the last few years I have had numerous "crucial conversations" that were long overdue. When I finally had those long-overdue talks, I had my back against the wall. There was no way to get out of saying what had to be said. I had postponed saying what needed to be said for as long as possible. I was honest about some hard-to-hear "stuff." I own that. I was honest.
Honest I get.
WOW. Does that really describe me?
Brutal sounds vicious.
Brutal sounds deliberate.
Brutal sounds mean...at least to me.
When I was in Grad School at Whitworth, getting my second Master's Degree, a faculty member by the name of Ron Short gave me an important life-lesson that addressed the issue of overbearing honesty. He said, "What we are about in this program is "straight-talk." We are not about subtle manipulation, or guessing games, or I should know how you feel, what you need and what you want if you don't tell me." "Yet", he went onto say , "straight talk won't make you popular. For those who are about being right, it may make them defensive. Others may feel that you are mean, when in fact you are taking care of yourself by telling your truth."
Can I get an "Amen!" for that wisdom?
Another communication specialist once said, " An effective communicator tells the truth, but tells it with kindness."
I guess that last statement summarizes my goal. As a college teacher and human being I am called to give feedback. Sometimes that isn't easy. It may, at times, even hurt the feelings of my students, friends, or family. Yet I want to be clear about my goal in every interaction.
My goal is to help, not hurt. My goal is to motivate my students to move to the next level of excellence, to challenge themselves to "up the bar" of expectations they might have about their classroom performance. My goal with other people, outside the classroom, is to be congruent and authentic with tact, love and respect.
Yet can my words, even though well thought out words, "sting."? Yes, they can.
Do I need to be careful about the intensity of my communication, my non-verbal gestures and the "tone" of what I say? Most definitely.
Is it useful for me to re-examine the truth I tell and how I tell it? Absolutely!
Am I grateful for the opportunity to re-think this issue.
Yes, I am.
What's my conclusion after all of this?
My re-affirmed goal is to do effective and kind straight talk, not brutal honesty. I want to tell the truth but do so with tact, politeness, and kindness! I am an ever-growing person and communicator. Like others around me, I still have lots to learn.