What better way to launch the year than with a shout out for honesty. That thing that we are all told is so important as we grow up and which then seems to promptly abandon us in adulthood when we could actually do something good with it!

January 2, 2017

Honesty when we're tiny

This isn't going to be a lecture against dishonesty but rather a 'heads up' about how we lie by accident - and how to chip away at that habit to get some great results in our hardest conversations. Ironically, when we are very little we go around telling the truth all the time. When we're hungry, when we're frightened, when we want a toy or a cuddle. But then, as life becomes progressively more complicated by our changing needs and people's more advanced expectations of us, we must learn verbal workarounds to handle adversity.

Learned caution

It's not that we learn to lie on purpose it's just that it seems to go down better when we tell the unvarnished truth. We're told that instead of saying "biscuit!" or even "I want a biscuit" we must be more nuanced (pleasant/polite) and use language such as "please may I have". This soon progresses to "I wouldn't mind... a biscuit/cup of tea/stiff drink". And before we know it - and most of us don't - we're using expressions such as "do you have a sec?" (when would we ever need someone's attention for one sixtieth of a minute?) and "I was a bit annoyed when you were 20 minutes late". Really? Only a bit?

The possibilities that honesty brings

So what? I hear you think. It's all part of our gloriously nuanced language. You say. It's how we can show that we have manners, and breeding and education. You chide.

No it's not! I protest back. It's how we learn to talk both when we don't have a big point to make but ESPECIALLY when we do. In other words, we use these elegant turns of phrase both through habit when there's nothing much happening and with intention when we feel the need to be cautious, to tone down something that we think might offend. We also do it to disguise our true feelings in the belief that that something bad might happen if we were really honest about them. 

So, if you need something important to happen, using subtle language introduces additional risk. If you are subtle, it is possible that the other person either won't pick up on your hinting or they will pick up on your hints but might choose to ignore them - leaving you to slink away to hide under your favourite rock. 

You will have your own favourites, I am sure, but here are a few examples of what I mean... (truer version in bold).

Do you have a moment? I need a good ten minutes - do you have them now?

I wouldn't mind [your opinion on this...] I really would like to get your reassurance on this.

Why don't you just...   I have an idea if you are prepared for inputs?

I'm not sure [that's going to work]   I'm pretty sure it's not!

I'm a bit [worried]   I'm worried


Why change all this? Wouldn't it mean that we would all start sounding like v1 droids who can only tell the blunt, unvarnished, rather inelegant truth? Well that rather depends on whether you, patient reader, would prefer to make swift, relatively painless progress in your trickiest conversations or whether you would prefer to sound like a character out of Downton Abbey expecting people around you to 'do the right thing'.

As always, before you make up your mind on any of this, go and play and see what happens. Here are a couple of experiments to try out.

  1. ‍Cut out modifiers like a bit, slightly, very and really. It will make the other words you use more powerful.
  2. Mention the feeling behind what you're saying, e.g. 

I'm saying this because I'm worried...

The point really is, I'm nervous about raising the topic...

The reason I'm saying this is because I was annoyed yesterday...

Have a play with these two things and let me know what happens.

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