Be honest but beware of being too blunt or nasty

There’s always a premium paid to “honesty” in life and the workplace, but as we’ve all experienced, one person’s honesty is another person’s red flag.

Truth is not necessarily absolute; part of the “conversation” we have in democracy is that invariably people are going to disagree somewhere along the line.

Very often, clashes are triggered by a person’s blunt assessment of an issue or a person. Let’s look at the “shades of blunt”.

Appreciating blunt honesty

Bluntness accompanied by honesty can be astringently refreshing. It’s when someone’s outspoken opinion ruffles you but you nevertheless recognise (even if secretly) that they’re on the money.

You might intensely dislike their manner of framing or wording the issues but your heart of hearts knows they’re correct and perhaps you’re just being stubborn.

That’s one shade of blunt: it leaves little shaving nicks on your ego but it’s all to the best eventually, and certainly the two of you can progress that discussion. Mark this shade of blunt light green (for growth – not envy!).

Thoughtless venting

Other blunt opinions are less benign. A person may believe they’re being “honest” or “just saying” (a frequently disingenuous remark) or “telling it as it is”. What they’re doing here is thoughtless venting.

These are the people you wish would be teleported to another planet where they can freely express themselves, with no-one to give them a hearing or the attention they’re obviously seeking.

There is a lot of this in social media, particularly from celebrities’ Twitter accounts; this type of blunt is more about idle, sometimes ignorant, chatter. Colour this one yellow verging on orange (for caution).

Not honesty

“Honesty” borders on plain old-fashioned rude when you’re angered by a person’s bluntness and you know they’re wrong. It might be that the opinion was arrogantly couched.

For example, someone out-of-work seeks a former colleague’s input on a job application cover letter. They disagree about the letter’s style, and the former colleague says cooly, “Well, I’m employed”.

That shade of blunt is definitely in the (bright red) rude camp, simply because the former colleague’s tenure may owe nothing to how s/he wrote their own letter of application some years ago.

We all know that winning (and keeping) a job may not come down to ticking all the so-called right boxes either; perhaps the majority of the panel simply liked a candidate’s business style.

This type of bluntness (which is not honesty) is uncalled for, especially when people are feeling fragile and are already trying hard for gainful opportunities of their own.

Hazard warning

You know those roadside hazard billboards with dials indicating the level of fire danger for the day? Perhaps offices (and elsewhere) could have something along the following lines:

• Green: Clear and tactful
Express opinions knowledgeably, clearly but with tact because the other party may be unaware.

Example: “That’s an excellent idea, but you might benefit from talking with Pru/Charlie in accounts first …”

• Yellow: Pointing to problem

The opinion may need more information but it raises matters that require a hearing.

Example: “We don’t really know yet whether too much tech rewires people’s brains – let’s take a closer look at the research.”

• Orange: Unhelpful remark

Think before you open your mouth or post your view. How is what you’re contributing really going to advance matters?

Example: “Suck it up – it’s where the future lies, Luddite!”

• Pink: Rude and defensive 

When someone becomes over-protective of one’s right to speak or put up with it (in the case of both parties).

Example: “It’s my choice to do it this way, so why don’t you put a sock in it?”

• Code Red: Hurtful and damaging

Your bluntness is overstepping the mark and causing needless hurt or damage.

Example: “You’re an idiot – go ahead and *expletive* up your life.”

Watch out!

Words can be extremely hurtful – it’s not enough to later claim the receiver was too sensitive, or you “didn’t realise it would be hurtful”. Repeated nasty blunt comments can amount to bullying, which is illegal.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace. See the rest of Eve’s blogs here.


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D. John Carlson
D. John Carlson
5 years ago

I say – SAY IT AS IT IS – always?