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Tell the Truth, With Love

Posted March 16, 2021 • Change,Conflict Mastery,Emotional Intelligence,Leadership • by Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D.

A Talmudic passage tells the story of a stranger who approached the sage Hillel and said, “Teach me the entire Torah while standing on one foot.” Hillel famously replied, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. The rest is commentary. Go and study.”

If Hillel were an organizational psychologist with a specialty in conflict, and a stranger asked Hillel to teach him the entire field while standing on one foot, I suspect Hillel would say: “Tell the truth, with love. The rest is commentary. Go and study.”

Tell the truth, with love.

Telling the truth can be hard under the best of circumstances. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. We don’t want to feel like a bad person. We don’t want to ruin a good working relationship. We worry that there is simply no way to say what we have to say kindly.

Telling the truth can seem even harder when we’re working remotely. In person, it would be easier to create the right conditions for a heart-to-heart conversation. Working from home, those kinds of intimate conversations can be much harder to initiate.

However, despite the constraints of working remotely, the advice still stands. When we don’t tell the truth, people don’t tend to be able to read our minds or figure things out on their own. And when we don’t speak with love, we risk our message getting lost in a sea of defensiveness. The tough situations we find ourselves in are not likely to change until we gather the courage to tell the truth, with love.

But what exactly does this mean?

It means finding a way to say directly and with empathy what is true for you.

In order to do this successfully, you can ask yourself the following four questions: 

  • “What do I really want to say, but either I’ve stopped myself from saying it or I haven’t said it in a way the other person can really hear it?”
  • “If I haven’t said it, why not?” (For example, I don’t want to hurt, upset or disappoint someone else; I’ve tried to tell them this before and they haven’t listened; I wish my own opinions, needs or desires were different than they really are; etc.)
  • “If I’ve said it unkindly, why?” (For instance, I’ve felt frustrated, and I haven’t reacted the way I’d like; I feel angry or hurt;  I’ve been distracted or in a rush; etc.)
  • “How can I convey what I really want to say in a way that genuinely communicates my care / respect / love for the other person?”

You can use your answers to these four questions to give structure or form to your truth-telling.

The next time you find yourself unable to speak the truth, or other people seem resistant to what you are telling them, ask yourself, “How can I speak my truth, with love?”

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