Speaking the Truth in Love (Even When It’s Awkward)

Honesty, candor and being frank, all easy in a Christian environment, right? Not always.

Why are we tempted to hold back?

Here are some common examples

  • Unclear expectations
  • Fear of being embarrassed, rejected, or hurt
  • Uncertain levels of trust
  • Valuing harmony over progress
  • Uncertain of our own thoughts and opinions
  • Lack of confidence
  • Don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings
  • Insecurity
  • The conversation is complex and subjective in nature
  • The nature of confidentiality

And you could add more examples to the list. Honesty is not always easy, but it’s desperately needed.

The church lives by a great code of biblical principles and values, of which honesty is central. But our humanity allows us to hold back, protect, hide, and not say what we’re thinking, when it’s better for everyone involved to be honest.

Think about the many kinds of conversations where we desperately need honesty, here are just a few:

  • Relational conflict
  • Conversations in matters of sin and salvation
  • Counseling
  • Staffing reviews and coaching conversations
  • Salary adjustments
  • Church board meetings
  • What would you add to this list?

Speaking the truth will often cost you something, but it will cost you more if you don’t.

People want the truth, even when it’s difficult to hear.

Over time, those you love and lead will trust you more if they know they can count on your honesty, even if it hurts in the moment.

5 Guidelines to a Potentially Difficult but Honest Conversation

1) Intentional self-honesty

It’s difficult to engage in a meaningful, transparent and honest conversation if you are not first honest with yourself.

For an honest conversation, you must first trust yourself in three ways. 1. Trust that you know yourself, (you are self-aware) 2. Trust that you understand your motives, (the why) and 3. Trust that you know your desired outcome.

Obviously, all that is not needed for a casual hallway chat or hanging out at a ballgame. But deeper, more meaningful conversations do not happen by accident, they require intentionality.

Being self-aware, (knowing ourselves), helps us relate to the person we’re talking with in an appropriate manner. This also helps us cultivate a non-anxious presence which is essential to an honest conversation because it allows us to think more clearly.

If we engage in a conversation where we are uptight, nervous, or insecure, the natural response is to hold back and self-protect until we perceive the conversation to be safe.

If the emotion of “safe” isn’t perceived, that doesn’t mean the conversation is unsafe, it may just mean that there are insecurities in play or there isn’t enough time in that environment.

2) A healthy and safe environment  

A healthy culture that is conducive to predictable behavior helps create a safe environment where honest conversations can freely take place.

Whether it’s your family or your church team, predictable behavior guided by shared values invites open, honest and meaningful conversations.

Without shared values it’s difficult to understand the playing field. (The rules of the conversation.) Shared values doesn’t mean all opinions align and are in agreement. It does mean that in the big picture you share the same desired ultimate outcomes.

This also does not imply a perfect culture. They don’t exist. Human relationship will always experience conflict, but giving the benefit of the doubt up front and a willingness to say “I’m sorry” if needed, goes a long way to the next conversation being equally honest and even more productive.

3) Cultivated and tested trust

Trust shared between two people, or a group, is a sacred covenant that should never be taken for granted and always honored with fierce commitment.

Which comes first, trust or a healthy relationship? That is, do we first trust in order to develop an open and honest relationship? Or do we need to experience an open and honest relationship to create trust?

Both sides can be supported.

We can say that trust is a gift that requires risk, and we must extend trust to some degree for any relationship to gain traction. We can also say that trust is only established by the demonstration of trustworthy behavior.

The easy way out is to say that both are required, and that’s true. But I believe the first one is the key. At some point risk is necessary, so we must extend trust if the relationship is going to gain ground and be proven trustworthy.

If trust is broken, that’s another story. Trust can be rebuilt, but it’s often a long and weary road.

4) Conversation rather than a debate

Connected to the previous question of whether trust is first extended or built over time, we also acknowledge that trust in general is eroding in current culture. That truth can’t be ignored because it seeps into our minds and behavior.

From “fake news” to AI generated content and social media algorithms the common comment is “I don’t know who to believe.”

This furthers the edge of distrust.

Therefore, conversations often take the nature and tone of a debate. Not with the spirit of an academic debate like those practiced in a college environment, but debates where the stakes are much higher and so is the heat.

In this sense a debate declares there is a winner and a loser, it requires that someone is right and someone is wrong. An honest conversation, in contrast, seeks to learn, understand, and come to a common and beneficial outcome.

With that definition given, in appropriate circumstances I’ll ask if the person or group is interested in a conversation or a debate. If it’s a conversation, I’m in. That doesn’t mean the conversation can’t have heat, many of the good ones do. But the tone and outcome is very different.

5) Courage to embrace the last 10%

Over twenty years ago I learned the principle of “The Last 10%” from our founding pastor, Kevin Myers. It took my leadership to another level.

The last 10% refers to getting everything said that needs to be said, before you leave the table. Kevin would often ask, “Are all hearts clear?” We knew what that meant.

Does the last 10% require maturity and wisdom? Yes.

But candidly, it’s better to take some risks and make some mistakes in an honest conversation, rather than to live with fear and insecurity and not say what needs to be said. That’s how we learn, grow and make life for ourselves and others better.

So how do we know what is appropriate for the last 10%?

Whatever embraces the good of the relationship, the good of the organization, and is pleasing to God, that is fair game!

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This article originally appeared on DanReiland.com and is reposted here by permission.