In my life, I have heard the phrase "brutally honest" many times. This refers to someone being blunt with their opinions and not sugarcoating anything.
I've always hated this phrase. It always seems to give people a pass to insult others.
But, before I get into that, I want to state that being brutally honest isn't always a bad thing. For example, if you're afraid that a friend is entering an abusive relationship, by all means, tell them bluntly! Sometimes, people need some sense knocked into them and being brutally honest is the way to go.
However, a lot of times, if a statement is prefaced with "to be frank," "to be blunt," or "to be brutally honest," it is just an excuse to say something completely unnecessary and most likely insulting.
While brutal honesty has its place, offering constructive criticism instead can truly turn someone's day around. Two situations in particular that have happened to me in recent years have furthered this idea for me, as each time, someone has been brutally honest with me and it has hurt me for a long time after.
Now, to preface, I'm not some snowflake who can't take criticism. I have been rejected, turned down, and told I wasn't good enough many times. And though it sometimes hurts a bit, I've never dwelled on anything for too long.
That is because many of these rejections and criticisms were to-the-point and constructive, allowing me to see my mistake and grow from it rather than telling me I'm not good enough.
The first situation was when a friend of mine was having a panic attack and during it, pointed out a part of my body that I had been insecure about for months by telling me very bluntly that it was gross. A few minutes after, he apologized profusely, saying that it was a really mean thing to do and that it won't happen again.
I accepted his apology and he truly hasn't made a comment like that in the two and a half years since that incident. However, that comment pointed out a minor insecurity and turned it into a huge one. Every day in school, I would wonder if other people were noticing it too.
It got to the point that I ultimately ended up changing that part of my body. It was so minor that only two people in my life noticed it, but to me, it made all the difference.
Just that one comment blew up an insecurity. And I'm sure that my friend didn't mean to do it, but it really shows the power of words.
The second situation happened only a few days ago. I had finally received a grade on a project for one of my classes. The project consisted of three parts, two of which I was confident with and one that I had almost no experience with.
(Note: I am keeping terms vague so that people I know in real life don't immediately deduce who this professor is.)
Though I had done similar projects for this class already, this one was a bit different and presented an added challenge. I did the project to the best of my ability, spending two hours compiling all the elements for it and another three writing and editing it (all in one night).
I turned it in knowing it wasn't my best work, but I thought it was decent.
I got the grade back with some comments. My professor said that the first part was mediocre (which I obviously didn't want to hear, but wasn't upsetting either), the second part was good enough, and the third part was "Quite frankly, horrible. There is no nice way to put it," and "muddled to oblivion."
For some background, my past two weeks have been rough. There has been the usual stress and anxiety that most college students deal with, but I have also found out that a family friend is dying, then found out another family member of mine is also dying just a week after. I had been dealing with my emotions pretty well, burying myself in my schoolwork, job, and internship.
But reading those comments was the straw that broke the camel's back. I was suddenly sobbing uncontrollably, all the emotions about my family troubles breaking loose along with the fact that my five consecutive hours of working on a project amounted to crap.
For the past few days, I keep crying about everything and it makes me feel pathetic. And it is all because those comments drove me over the edge.
When you are being "frank," you have no idea what is going on in the person's life and how your words will be received.
Reading about how horrible my work did not inspire me to do better next time. It drove me to a grief-filled, self-hating puddle that I am trying incredibly hard to claw out of.
So next time you are thinking of being brutally honest, just ask yourself whether what you are telling this person will truly help them. Will it motivate them to do better with their lives or will it heighten an insecurity or make them feel worthless?
I don't want people telling me that I did well when I didn't, but contrary to what my professor says, there is always a better and more constructive way to say something negative without crushing a person.
The way you phrase something can make or break someone's day, week, or even (in some cases) years.
So if you can, always choose kindness.