The difficulty of being truly honest


We are asked – all the time – to be authentic, to share our thoughts openly and to practice straight talk. Fair enough.

Maybe you have different experiences, but most of the times I dared to speak up, overcoming my own shame, my fears, my inner voice that says “One is not supposed to say that, what will others think of you.. “, people reacted insulted, aggressive, negative. Sometimes it really turned into disadvantages.

When I started my first job after university I experienced for the first time that typical boss-bashing. People complained about the company, their superiors, the circumstances, the system, everything. One day our Head of Department and her Deputy called in a meeting and she asked us, to honestly speak about what we appreciate and what we would like to change. What stroke me first was, that most people did not say anything. They just looked down to the table with a closed, stubborn expression in their faces. The second thing that happened was, that one very outspoken colleague and myself gave some of the negative feedbacks that were exchanged over coffee normally. So we spoke up. That did not induce others to follow. And what happened is that we were left as the disturbers, the trouble-makers.

I had a similar experience at school, when I spoke up at injustice, and in my later jobs. When I worked at an Austrian bank, they liked to use me as project manager for all kind of complex projects, but they told me that I would never become a line manager: “too outspoken”. Anyway I decided to choose a job, where I get payed for outspokenness and became a management consultant.

Nevertheless, in my private environment the trouble went on:. Same at my wedding: my grandmather gave me some jewelry from her own, emphasizing that I should really tell her, if I liked it, otherwise I could easily chose something else. I decided to tell her, very friendly, that I actually was not into coral too much and would love to find something else for me. I really wanted to give her to chance to give me something that would fit. Everybody was shocked.. how can you.. I find it more offending to leave people in the belief, that you are really happy about something you are not, but she was not grateful for telling her, although she asked for it.

Same happened when I told a friend how I felt about something she just did. I told her openly, that I was annoyed, which really cost me energy. She reacted really aggressive and insulted, again.

Maybe I never find the right situation or words or context. On the other hand it seems that people actually don’t want to know, what you think, unless it is confirming and positive. I think it is a huge gift, when people take the discomfort of going into that difficult situation, even if it might not feel good in the very moment. But for me this is the only way of getting into a relationship that is worthwhile. But it is almost impossible. Sometimes that makes me sad, that there is so little room for expressing your real feelings and thoughts. We are so caught in our good looking acts that we unlearn to be open, even if it is offending sometimes. And we are so badly equipped to deal with frustrations or negative feedback.

I had also that very rare experiences when someone said: thanks for letting me know. But this is still the exception and it really made a huge difference in the quality of the relation and the results we achieved.