Professional and personal communication is one of my biggest challenges. As an INTJ, I can be brutally honest, speaking my mind without sensing the effect my words and tone have on others. I just blurt out what I want to communicate without considering whether it’s the right time or place to do so.
I’ve found I have better skills when I write it all out in an email or written correspondence. But this misses many nuances and can be misunderstood.
At the other end of the spectrum, I clam up when the emotional environment hits like a battering ram.
The challenge I face is paying attention to the human element of interaction, rather than giving greater value to facts, figures and problem-solving. People are not just another problem to be solved.
I appreciate someone how openly speaks their mind. But saying things “as they are” – with little regard for people’s feelings – is a sure way to alienate others. Worse yet, being brutally honest is used as an excuse to be blunt, rude, cruel and callous. Of course, on the other side of this pendulum is silence and withholding all opinions.
Brutally honest: I don’t need your validation
One of my strengths – and inevitably, it shows up as a weakness – is that I’m perfectly content living life by my own rules. Many INTJs feel that they don’t require validation from others. As a young adult, I really didn’t care what others thought of me. I questioned traditions and norms, without taking into account who might have invested in those procedures or rules.
Unfortunately, I also ignored the rules of social interaction. I alienated others because I didn’t care what they thought of me. I was happy to be independent, taking care of myself.
Until I discovered letting my heart lead, I swung between “I need no one” and being an absolute people-pleaser, wanting to be accepted!
Being polite: acceptable hypocrisy
As a result of my preference for speaking what’s on my mind, I struggle in social settings with the acceptable hypocrisy of politeness. It is, without a doubt, the worst definition of “being nice”.
I can’t stand social pleasantries, small talk, especially beating around the bush and sugar-coating something important.
I can see the elephant in the room and I’d like to talk about how we could remove it.
Problem-solving is easy. Listening to someone else’s feelings and story, on the other hand, can be exhausting. Just give me the facts. Ask me for advice and an honest and objective opinion. I promise I won’t mince words.
The challenge is that feelings, pride, and self-worth often conflict with the facts and figures, and expediency says “just ignore people’s feelings”. Except I can’t.
Brutal honesty: sometimes it’s just brutal and not entirely honest
I can recognise the times professionally that I wanted to prove “I am right and that’s why I’m the star”. Those were moments where I held no regard or respect for the person that I was speaking to. I wantonly humiliated and hurt others, only to regret it later.
There is a place, in speaking honestly, for asking yourself:
- Am I mean-spirited?
- Do I feel better than others by speaking and acting this way?
- Am I enjoying lording over others?
- Does this make me feel powerful or full of pride and arrogance?
People use “the truth” to hurt and damage another. To knock them down. We use “the truth” to manipulate, to get the desired outcome by using the facts to our advantage. And of course, as I mentioned, you show the world “I’m right, I’m better”.
You don’t have to be cruel to be kind.
Honesty does not require that you be harsh, rude or shocking.
It’s not always necessary to shake them or leave them shell-shocked so that they listen to you.
While the upside to being hurtful, harsh and cruel is that you made a point:
was that really the point you wanted to make?
Change: I can be sincere rather than brutally honest
Facts, figures and knowledge are important, but so are relationships. The honesty that I so highly value can show up as sincerity with compassion.
Authenticity: Being true to yourself is more than just facts, figures and the need to be right. It requires more effort than rattling off what I know!
#1 – Know thyself
Notice how resentment, bitterness, anger and frustration build up within when you fail to speak up for yourself. Even if you are trying to be “nice” and “not rock the boat”. Don’t swallow the feelings.
Take note of the times you have been cruel, brutal, or callous to make your point, to feel better about yourself, or to “be right”.
- What is driving and motivating you at this moment?
- What are your intentions and their underlying emotions?
- Are there past resentments in this relationship that taint the meaning you are giving to this interaction?
- Consider even your sense of safety and security: do you feel threatened in any way?
#2 – Know your purpose
Wielding honesty as a weapon can break relationships and make you “the bad guy”, especially if you use honesty to put others down.
Before you speak, clarify for yourself:
- What is the actual issue to be addressed? I would suggest looking at three potentials to consider:
- Project/Situation – is this something specific that is a problem?
- People – is the real issue relating to relationships and interactions?
- Patterns – is there a pattern of behaviour that needs to be addressed?
- Do I need my personal/professional boundaries to be acknowledged? If you are being hurt (emotionally, mentally, or even in a situation professionally that could adversely affect you in the short or long term), perhaps the purpose of the conversation is to establish a boundary.
- Am I just looking for the ego trip of making a point and showing how much I know? So, you’re brilliant. If you feel that this is not being acknowledged – is this the right way to showcase yourself? What might be a more intelligent way of doing this?
#3 – Read the Room
There is a right time and place for difficult conversations. Sometimes, there are even the right people to have a conversation with. Before you dive in, consider whether you are in the right room:
- Is this the right person to speak to?
- When is the best time for this conversation?
- Where is the most appropriate place to speak about this matter?
We’ve all had moments when we have said the right thing to the wrong person, or to the right person at the wrong time!
When something is weighing on your mind, it’s easy to want to offload it. But the purpose and mission are not to offload it as quickly as possible!
If you want to be effective in change, make sure you are speaking to the right person, and as much as possible, pick the right time and place to have this conversation.
#4 – Practice loving-kindness
I don’t “play nice”. But I do believe in being kind. It’s not a game. And I strive to balance loving-kindness for myself with being kind to others.
I see compassion and loving-kindness like the breath I take. To exhale compassion for others, first, you have to inhale for yourself! Healthy boundaries and respect lead to healthy relationships. And the hardest conversations, at times, are about those boundaries and personal respect. Without this, there is resentment, anger and frustration. And that can show up later in passive-aggressive behaviour.
When you speak up with kindness, you address the issue. You don’t attack the person.
Most importantly, with kindness, you have difficult conversations that you might otherwise wish to avoid.
#5 – Be authentic because insincerity shows through
#6 – Silence is also violence; if you’re not honest
Silence can be toxic when you’re trying to “be nice” and keep the peace. Unfortunately, keeping silent withholds information. It might be withholding vulnerability about your feelings because you no longer feel safe. Or it might be that you don’t care anymore, and so stop participating in the conversation.
This silence can be part of the very problem:
- cryptic conversation – you know there’s a problem, but they haven’t told you what the problem is, so you jump to conclusions;
- passive-aggressive behaviour and interactions;
- ghosting, rather than speaking up and working on the relationship.
While it’s okay to restrict your vulnerability to a small group of people where it is safe to open up, if safety is regularly an issue, it might be time to rethink your inner circle. Clarify the difference for yourself between friends and acquaintances, and don’t be afraid to differentiate that for yourself. Just because someone else has you as their confidant doesn’t mean that you have to reciprocate.
Consider the impact of your silence and how sincerity with compassion might make a difference. How could you speak up?
#7 – Humility in the face of speaking from anger and pain
We all screw up.
We’ve said things when responding in anger or pain that we later regret. There are triggers and blind spots that we failed to catch in time. Perhaps you were holding off on a conversation until the right place and time and got triggered and spoke out of turn.
Acknowledge it, first to yourself. Then to others, when appropriate.
While you think it might make you look bad or weak to acknowledge you spoke out of place, it takes great strength and courage to admit when you were brutally honest rather than sincere.
Brutally honest conclusions
I still value honesty and want people around me that are not afraid to speak their minds or call me out. But now, I value those who can do so with kindness and compassion.
I want to have difficult conversations: because that’s where the transformation and change happens. It is where the opportunity lies.
In my life, I want people who sincerely, with compassion, can point out my flaws and give me the opportunity for change.