Should I say something? Knowing when to be honest with a friend. WOman telling the bride that she doesn't like her husband

A source of potential conflict is when you’re faced with a situation where your honesty – that’s the truth with respect – may be met with negativity. It could be that the other party doesn’t want to hear the truth or that they are so knee-deep in something, that they can’t see what you see. You might be considered insensitive even if it’s not what you intended or you may be regarded as a party pooper. When faced with a situation like this, you may be left wondering: Should I say something? Should I give my opinion to my friend (or family member), even if they haven’t asked for it or they don’t want it?

It is hard to bite our tongues when we’re in the process of trying to reduce our own bullshit (BS) and so may feel conflicted and even compromised by ‘letting something slide’. We may even feel complicit in what they’re doing or even worse, we may feel triggered by the whole situation. Sometimes, in fact, often, we are trying to save them from getting hurt or from making a mistake, especially if we’ve been through it ourselves or can just plainly see the writing on the wall.

On the flipside, your honesty may be read as you disapproving of their choices aka criticism. This doesn’t mean that what you have to say is a ‘bad’ thing but they may get very defensive and/or regard you as being disrespectful, even if you’re not.

Sometimes the nature of the situation means that your answer is self-evident. As I pointed out to a reader recently who was perplexed by her friend having a long-distance Skype thing with someone who mysteriously cancels each time a meeting is on the cards (Catfish alert – check out the MTV show), the situation in itself and the way that this person was going on about it was evident of the fact that he’d been having too many tokes of the fantasy crack pipe.Equally, it’s unlikely that your friend or family member is going to cartwheel around when you tell them that you can’t stand their partner, that their marriage is a mistake, or that you don’t think that they’re up to their new job/career/moving plans.

There’s no easy way to answer this question but there are ways to limit upset on either side.

The rule of thumb that I tend to operate on is to say nothing unless you’re asked directly for your take on things. Remember that them telling you about it isn’t the same as asking for your opinion or a ‘solution’.

The exception to this would be if you genuinely believed that they were in danger. Say your piece and leave it at that. They may not be ready to hear you right now but they might finally listen further down the line or even if they don’t admit it to you, they may become more vigilant about picking up on any red flags. Don’t keep pushing the issue but do make it clear that you love and care about them and that anything said is out of concern.

Do choose your moment. If you’ve ducked out on saying something and left it until crunch time – like when it’s their wedding or moving day – keep it zipped. You live and you learn.

Is your opinion needed? Whenever people share their stories of the angst that they’re experiencing over whether to say something, I’ve noticed a running theme – they feel like their opinion is needed but it’s neither needed or being asked for. Being their friend or family member doesn’t automatically necessitate your opinion. Is your opinion on this matter essential or very important? Do you believe that it’s essential because you yourself rely on the opinions of others to drive your decisions? Or is that it’s important because you genuinely don’t believe that they know what you do, and that ultimately what you say may help them? If so, speak up!

Examine your motives. Are you telling this person the truth in a respectful way and doing so to help them? Or are you doing it because it’s pranging on your own insecurities? Sometimes being the deliverer of truth is about feeling better about our own positions or about validating our own positions, but your position and for instance, changes that you’re making, are no less valid because somebody else isn’t being as honest with themselves or isn’t doing as you’d expect. Remember that opinion isn’t the same as the truth. That’s not to say that what you’re saying is untrue but what you do have to remember that you are giving feedback and if your motives are in the right place, you won’t feel that they’re obliged to do as you expect off the back of it.

Are you trying to live their life for them? It’s understandable to want to spare somebody you love and care about from getting hurt but even if they did ask for your opinion, it doesn’t mean that they won’t continue on down whatever path they’re on. Sometimes we have to learn through experience. When I’ve done things primarily off the back of other people’s opinions, I’ve ended up doubting my decision. You also can’t force a person to take up your viewpoint.

If you do decide to say something, coming up with three key points to back up your concerns will help your case. The longer your list, the more it seems like you’ve been storing up a list of offences. Make sure that your reasons are rooted in the present even if they have elements of the past to underpin your concern, because if you primarily focus on the past, they may feel that you’re embarrassing them.

Ultimately there’s nothing wrong with being honest with a loved one after all, a relationship where you can’t be honest (in a respectful way), is an unhealthy one where you’re pussyfooting around each other. We all need people in our lives who will take us aside and gently, and sometime firmly, tell us something that we need to know, even if we don’t realise it or fully appreciate it at that time. What you cannot control is how they react but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t say it.

One Response to ‘Should I say something?’ When you can’t decide if you should be honest about something

  1. Maya says:

    That was such a great post, I just wish there was a subject on self esteem issues in high schools… would change the direction of so many lives!
    I have a question though; I am in the situation where a friend of mine has been taking advantage of me for quite a few months. When I confronted her about it she threw the ball back at me, saying I was always playing the victim and not accepting responsibility of my life. I replied that the responsibility on that particular situation was shared, and she should own her part, which didn’t happen. She just became extra nice and acted as if nothing had happened, but I was too hurt and angry to follow. I don’t want to lose a friendship of many years over a misunderstanding or a disagreement, but at the same time I feel threatened and judged by her, and I am keeping distance to avoid being hurt. I have experienced that she judges other people in the same way (being victims and not able to put themselves together when in trouble). I know I have my issues but I also see in her a lot of narcissism, lack of empathy and judgementalism. On one side I feel I should confront her about this, and see if we can still be friends even with this difference in values, or if not, then let it be. But I am naturally reluctant to confrontation and I feel wrong by bringing up other people’s weaknesses- although they don’t have any problem bringing up mine. Shouldn’t I then become what I am criticizing? Sorry for the lenght.

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