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  • Caleb Birkhoff

Finding the Balance between Being Polite and Being Honest

As social beings, we are wired to seek out positive interactions with others. We want to be seen as polite, friendly, and considerate human beings. Have you ever found yourself holding back the truth to avoid hurting someone's feelings? Or maybe you've been in a situation where you felt like you couldn't express how you truly felt because it wasn't considered "polite." We sometimes tend to go out of our way to avoid hurting anyone's feelings - even if it means withholding our true opinions or giving false praise. But is that a good thing? We've all been there, and it can be a delicate balance between being honest and being polite. But is being overly polite really helping anyone? Below, we will explore how being polite can sometimes get in the way of being honest, and provide strategies to find the balance between the two; to ensure healthy relationships.


1. Fear of Hurting Feelings


One of the reasons we might choose to be overly polite instead of honest is the fear of hurting someone's feelings. This is especially true in personal relationships (heightened when it’s a close/meaningful relationship), where we don't want to damage the connection we have with the other person. However, the problem with this approach is that it can lead to a lack of honesty and authenticity in our relationships. By not expressing our true feelings, we may also be holding back the opportunity for growth and conflict resolution within the relationship. Instead, we need to focus on being assertive and honest while still being mindful of the other person's feelings. It’s the difference between leveling with someone and leveling them.


2. Recognize the need for honesty


Being honest doesn't mean being rude or harsh. Honesty is essential for healthy relationships because it allows you to communicate effectively. It's natural to gloss over things that might be uncomfortable or worrying. But, however, this often leads to more significant tensions and conflict in the long run. Honesty is a vital part of any healthy relationship, so, recognizing the need for it is the first step towards finding a balance. Often it is not what we lie about, but that we lied about it is so painful in relationships.


3. Social Conditioning


Another reason we might choose to prioritize politeness over honesty is that it's what we've been conditioned to do. From a young age, we are taught to be polite and not to say anything that might be considered rude or offensive. However, in certain situations, such as in the workplace or in professional settings, we need to be able to speak up and give feedback to our colleagues or clients. Providing honest feedback is essential for growth and success in any profession. By shifting our mindset and acknowledging that being honest is not the same as being rude, we can overcome this social conditioning and provide effective feedback when necessary.


4. Choose the right words


Finding the right words to communicate your thoughts is essential to achieving balance. Avoid being critical, judgmental, and attacking. Instead, choose words that are sincere, clear, and constructive in your delivery. For instance, instead of saying, "you're always late," say "I'd appreciate it if you could try to be on time." This makes your point clear without coming off as rude or aggressive. This gives us a chance to acknowledge people’s effort or intention, even if the results are less than ideal.


5. Passive Aggression


Being overly polite can also lead to a passive-aggressive approach in our communication. Instead of being direct and assertive, we may use subtle hints or sarcasm to convey our true feelings. The problem with this approach is that it can create confusion and tension in our relationships because the other person may not understand why we are upset. Instead, we need to be confident in expressing our thoughts and feelings in a direct and assertive manner. This approach helps to avoid the blame game and increases the chances of finding a solution that works for both parties.


6. Be empathetic


When communicating your thoughts or expressing your opinion, try to speak with empathy and compassion. Put yourself in the other person's shoes, understand their perspective, and be mindful of their feelings. Your honesty should come from a place of genuine care, concern, and respect for the other person's wellbeing. Being empathetic shows that you appreciate them, even when bearing tough news. It also serves to strengthen our relationships when we see ad validate a whole person, but being able to see how they arrived at a thought, feeling, or behavior.


7. Honesty is Essential for Growth


One of the most significant benefits of being honest is that it allows for growth and self-improvement. By acknowledging our faults and mistakes and being open to feedback, we can learn and grow from our experiences. This is especially important in personal relationships and in the workplace. By prioritizing honesty, we can cultivate an environment where feedback is encouraged and mistakes are viewed as opportunities for growth rather than failures.


8. Finding the Balance


Finding the balance between being polite and being honest is not easy, but it's essential for developing healthy relationships and achieving success in any profession. To find this balance, we need to shift our mindset and prioritize assertiveness over politeness. We also need to acknowledge that being honest doesn't have to mean being rude or aggressive. By using non-judgmental language, active listening, and effective communication skills, we can be honest while still being mindful of the other person's feelings.


9. Be tactful


Being tactful doesn't mean sugar-coating everything and avoiding difficult conversations. Instead, it means using diplomacy in your communication. Tactfulness involves knowing what to say and how to say it in a way that is least hurtful. Be mindful of your language, tone, and nonverbal communication. A little tactfulness goes a long way in finding the balance between honesty and politeness.


10. Practice active listening


Active listening involves paying attention to the speaker, summarizing, and reflecting on what you've heard. When you're actively listening, you eliminate any chances of misunderstandings. You confirm what they said, understand the context, and clarify any points that you may confuse you. Practicing active listening helps you to further develop your communication skills, which, in turn, leads to finding the balance between honesty and politeness.


Embrace Your Opportunity to be Your Own Advocate


Finding the balance between being polite and being honest is crucial to achieving healthy relationships. Being honest is essential for communication, and politeness is necessary for maintaining positive interactions with others. Remember, honesty and politeness are not mutually exclusive, and you can incorporate both in your communication. Recognize the need for honesty, be empathetic, choose your words carefully, be tactful, and practice active listening. By following these tips, you can learn to communicate effectively, deepen your relationships, and achieve optimal results. This balance is essential for developing healthy relationships, achieving success in any profession, and fostering an environment where growth and self-improvement are encouraged.


I hope that this blog helps you feel better equipped to to be honest with those in your life and consider support through therapy in San Francisco. If after reading all of that, you’re still finding yourself full of questions feel free to call me at 415-990-1452 for a free 15-minute phone consultation and to get some questions answered. I would be happy to hear what is happening for you, what you’re looking for and provide some direction to finding the right therapist for you.


If you are seeking help with couples therapy, drugs and alcohol, life transitions, discovering yourself, or therapy for men’s issues, you can read more about how Caleb Birkhoff might be able to help by clicking here!




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