How often do you not share the necessary and relevant truth with people because you don’t want to hurt their feelings?
“I want him/her to understand this, but I don’t want to hurt their feelings.” Sound familiar?
I want you to understand two things about what’s going on when you feel this:
First, you’re not trying to protect their feelings. You’re trying to protect your own. You’re not dishonest by thinking, “I don’t want to hurt their feelings.” You’re incomplete and possibly unaware of what motivates your decision.
The complete statement is, “I don’t want to hurt their feelings . . . because that would make me feel (bad, awkward, guilty, mean, petty, uncaring, etc.) and I don’t want to feel like that.” Or, “I want him/her to understand this . . . but I don’t want them to think I’m (jealous, envious, attacking or judging them, saying I’m better than them, etc.).”
We don’t like to feel uncomfortable, be seen as the source of causing someone emotional pain, or be falsely labeled as something that doesn’t reflect our intentions or identity.
So when you think you’re trying to protect someone else’s feelings, that’s not the real issue. The real reason is you’re trying to prevent yourself from being in an awkward situation and protect yourself from being labeled the cause of it.
Second, it’s not your job to protect people’s feelings. At least not for adults (there are different standards required for kids +/-20 and younger). Your job is to understand and direct your own feelings with discipline and intention. You don’t get to decide what someone feels, what they’re allowed to feel, or what they’re capable of emotionally processing.
You decide whether or not you tell the necessary and relevant truth and whether or not you do it with care and compassion. You control what you share, why you share it, and how you share it. That’s your responsibility. You don’t deserve credit for withholding truth under the disguise of protecting someone’s feelings.
So when you think you need to protect people’s feelings, remember that how a message is received is not for you to decide. Your responsibility is to allow people to address real issues by discussing the truth with courage, intention, and love. Then recognize their humanity to feel however they feel and their autonomy to choose how to respond to that. Will people always feel and respond the way you want? Of course not, but neither do you.
Let’s flip the opening question.
How would you feel if you discovered people in your life are hiding things from you because they don’t think you’d respond well emotionally?
This question isn’t theoretical. There is 100% certainty that some of your relationships at work, with friends, and with your family aren’t telling you certain things because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.
It’s just as ineffective when they do it to you as when you do it to them. Break that pattern.
Answer the call. Do the work.
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Brian Kight is a multi-industry leader on the topics of leadership, culture, and behavior. He provides simple systems that produce exceptional results for organizations, teams, and people.