Recently, I had the delightful experience of FaceTiming a good friend who is serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine. A small group of friends assembled in my kitchen to make the video call across several seas and continents. The 90 minutes we spent talking with her flew by. All of us had a lot more to say, so we will continue the conversation when we do it again next month. But before we made that call, my friend who brought her MacBook was setting up when I noticed something big and orange stuck in her front teeth. I said “Hold on! You’ve got to get that thing out of your teeth before we call her…”
“Well, thank you for telling me,” she said gratefully as she picked it out.
“Yes, of course, I would want someone to tell me!”
And, yes, that’s absolutely the truth. If you’re ever with me and I have food stuck in my teeth, something hanging out of my nose, toilet paper trailing from my shoe, or half my skirt tucked into my tights, please tell me. Or let’s just say I’m behaving like a total asshole — call me on that, too. All these things have happened to me, and they will undoubtedly happen again. We owe one another the courtesy of honesty in simple embarrassing moments and beyond…
I get quite a lot of brutal honesty these days from Part 1 of The Precious Pair who is 15 now. Usually by way of her unsolicited opinions:
“Your hair doesn’t look right.”
“You’re not going to wear that, are you?”
“Those tiki torches in our front yard look trashy. I took them down.”
When she says things like this to me or to her younger sister, our reaction is typically one of resentment. “Why do you have to be so mean?” we will often plead to her.
And she defends herself every time…”But I’m just being honest.”
Why is it that being honest and direct and decisive and confident is often mischaracterized as being downright mean? This is especially true for girls and women. After all, we’re taught early on about sugar and spice and everything sappy. And in my youth and early adulthood even, I was much better at sugar-coating my comments. Now, a couple decades later, I’ve abandoned the art of spin doctoring my opinions, and in recent months, this is no more true than at work. I’ve been thinking lately why I’ve experienced this transition from overly polite to drastically direct. I’ve come up with several logical reasons for the shift.
About 5 years ago, I had a great boss who encouraged the employees under his direction to have what he called “prickly conversations” – in fact, he wanted us to conduct them with one another without hesitation whenever necessary.
I have a great boss now who is ultra-decisive. I love that about him. I want to be more like that. I am becoming more like that.
My company has a female CEO who believes in all the same. She never beats around the bush, and she doesn’t want her people to do it either.
I’ve worked with the same male peer for 15 years. We bicker. We raise our voices. We put one another in place now and then. We are more than prickly; we are downright harsh to each other at times. Guess what? The result is a trusting working relationship.
In the Summer of 2018, I completed a 6-month Leadership Training program. A good amount of the content addressed what they called “courageous conversations.” Again, more professional training that pushed me out of my comfort zone and into this newer phase of my life where I value receiving and delivering honest feedback more than ever before.
Amid these influences, I’ve grown into the style I am today: direct, decisive, and confident. All the things that my teenager is trying to achieve with her unsolicited opinions. And here I am, calling her “mean.” What am I thinking, trying to stomp that out of her at a nice young age when it took me two decades to learn these things and become them?
Probably if I had learned to be this way much earlier, I could have avoided some of the interpersonal conflicts and turmoil that did consume my life in the recent past. I certainly could have and should have done a better job of communicating my opinions and pain-points (no pun intended) while also establishing healthy boundaries. Shame on me.
But I can do things differently now and for the rest of my life. Not just at work. But out here in the world where things matter the deepest. I can move forward with an approach that is respectful and empathetic while, at the same time, real and pure and true to who I am and who you are to me. No more faking. No more fear. No more numbing myself to my own feelings so I can merely get by or trudge along on an unpredictable path. I owe this to myself. Most important, I owe this to all of you – my family, my friends, my coworkers, plus even acquaintances and strangers whom I encounter. Me “snowing” you into thinking things are fine and dandy when they are not — that will do you no favors. That will not open your eyes to a new perspective. That will not allow you the choice to change or not to change.
And, as I already said above, you can deal the same back to me.
So, My Dear Teenager, do not lose your gift for honesty. Simply learn to manage it. Control the timing of it and work on your delivery. Keep in mind that what you believe in your veins is not what everyone believes. Your style is not the end-all, be-all. Your opinion isn’t either. Always be respectful of differences. But your perspective and your perceptions are your privileges. You must decide continuously when and how and where it makes good sense to state them aloud. The best time to share your gift for truth is when you’re asked for it. Yet you must also use it to protect and defend yourself at times.
I’ve finally discovered the joy and freedom that honesty brings. And I’m not looking back. I’m not going that way. I’m taking a new path, still unpredictable, yet it’s brighter. Because, yep, it’s lined with tacky tiki torches. And the pathfinder is a braver version of me, one I’m still getting to know, yet I trust her sense of direction fully. I trust her to take me daily, with my loved ones hooked in my arms, to a place called Peace. God willing. This is my honest vision.
The Real Meesh