This post was inspired by my Spanish online class. I’ve never expected that practicing grammar (the use of subjunctive, for those who want to know) can give idea for a post. But I guess that’s a life of a writer, idea can come from many different places. 🙂
Well, back to the topic, yesterday my teacher asked me this question: Do you want your friend to tell you the truth? (¿ Quieres que tu amiga diga la verdad? ) My answer was: depend. The follow up question was: depend on what? Well, thinking on my feet and speaking in Spanish about such a deep question are like juggling plates on a uni-bike. So I just mumbled out something. Now, that I have some time to think, I’d like to share with you what I thought in a slightly bigger context.
Will you tell somebody the truth? The truth here implies bad news or opposite opinion or hard to hear information. Well, here is my answer, it depends. It depends on:
1. Is this truth really the truth or is it a matter of opinion?
A lot of things are a matter of opinion. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder we said. Answering yes that it is an opinion does not mean that I will not tell it but I will make sure that I file it in my head as an opinion so that if I decide to tell it, I tell it as an opinion with possibilities that others may have opposite opinion.
2. What is my relationship to this person?
Relationships are not created equally. Most of us probably will not share our most honest opinions about our boss’ wife’s terrible dress choice. The same with friends as well. Each friendship has different flavor. Some friendships are not strong enough (yet) to handle difficult matters, some are.
3. Is this something that the person really does not know, and she/he needs and wants to know?
When your friend ask you “should I break up with this guy/gal?”, pause a bit before answering. Sometimes your friend is really ambivalent about it and genuinely wants to know your opinion. Sometimes he/she already made up their mind and just want support from you. And sometimes he/she asks without wanting to really know the answer.
If your friend is in the first state, there is a good possibility that you can tell your opinion. If your friend is in the second state, you may want to emphasize support before telling her your opinion. If your friend is in the third state, you know that you are fighting an uphill battle were you to decide to tell your opinion.
4. How can this information be of a use to the receiver?
I want to emphasis that the usefulness has to be from the point of view of the receiver. All of us probably have at one point or another received advise or feedback that are not very useful because we already know it or hurtful. I believe many of us have hot button issues that we’d rather not discuss.
I think in order to know whether something is of a use to the receiver or not, the messenger, to the best of our ability, has to put oneself in the receiver’s shoes and to see from his/her eyes. Look not just at the matter at hand, but at the bigger context of the receiver’s life. By doing this, the messenger will gain a lot of insight on how to deliver the message as well.
5. Is the timing and the setting right?
There is a time and place to tell hard matters. I find that timing is often crucial in determining whether our opinions are accepted by the other person or not.
In term of setting, personally I prefer a one-on-one setting because in a group each person has different relationship with each other. Plus, I don’t like to embarrass the other person nor myself in front of others. Given that, I also know that there are times when group can give more powerful feedback.
This five questions are not a checklist but a way to get a better picture. After getting the picture, we can then decide our next move. May be, we just want to check if the information we have is right, may be we decide that we want to persuade her to really consider our point of view. Whatever we decide, we have to prepare for the implementation of communicating tactfully, which will be the subject of my next week musing. 🙂