It is an extremely hard thing when we have to give bad news, or tell a hurtful truth to someone. How do you go about saying something hurtful without it coming out mean? This is a hard thing to learn, and I don’t even know that I have it down at all. But I have been learning how to try. Breaking bad news, or telling someone something that could be hurtful, takes a good balance of effective and appropriate messages. This means getting your point across, with an appropriate amount of tact and good judgement. For me, my messages seem to fall into the either/or categories. I can tell and effective message, but it may come across as blunt and unfeeling. Or I can say the “right” appropriate message, but it’s a watered-down version of what I’d actually like to say. It’s a tricky thing to do, find the center of the two.
But there are some extremes to avoid.
There is the extreme of saying the appropriate thing, but not the truthful thing-just accommodating someone so you don’t hurt their feelings. This is bad for a few reasons. One, they won’t know that what they are doing is really hurting you, or offending you in some way. Two, it establishes in their head that whatever it is, it’s okay-which may cause problems in the future. Three, it isn’t good for you, because you may still feel upset at whatever they are doing, and they won’t know why. It causes a lot of miscommunication when you just let someone do something, so you don’t have to talk about the subject. A step towards good communication is being willing to talk about the things that personally bother you, or things that may not be pleasant to discuss.
The other extreme is being completely blunt with a person and saying everything you feel. This causes a few problems as well. One, it may make the other person feel inferior, like they aren’t able to do anything right. Two, it imbalances the relationship towards you-in an unhealthy manner of controlling. And three, it may make the other person feel like they can’t do/say things around you, for fear of harsh criticism. This can also cause them to accommodate YOU, which leads to the misconception that everything is fine, even when it isn’t. It also may mean that they don’t want you to be their bearer of bad news-even if you mean well, a harsh, blunt demeanor is very off-putting to people.
It’s a fine line to walk-but there is a good balance in being truthful, and being appropriate and nice about it. This goes back to being assertive-being able to state your position, while acknowledging the other person and respectfully disagreeing. It takes a lot of emotional intelligence to know when the right time in a conversation it is to say something hard. Sometimes, it’s something that may not need to be brought up. Other times, it may need to be out in the open in order for a conflict or misunderstanding to be resolved. It just takes diligence and a lot of good listening to figure out if now is the time to bring up a particular subject, or later, or whatever. Hard truths and bad news are delicate subjects. It just takes some time to figure out when and where and how to say it. Personally, I struggle with this kind of thing. I am not a particularly tactful guy, and a lot of things I say might be taken differently if I knew how to word it, or when to say it. It’s something that I at least know now, and am starting to work on. Good things will come, eventually. It just takes practice.
Effective/appropriate messages: messages that achieve the goals you and your partner have for the interaction, that conform to the social/relational/ethical expectations of the situation.
accommodating: resolving a conflict by satisfying the other person’s needs or accepting the other person’s ideas while neglecting one’s own needs or ideas.
emotional intelligence: the ability to monitor your own and others’ emotions and to use this information to guide your communications.