“I tend to tell people exactly what I think and feel, but sometimes I think it makes them uncomfortable. Where’s the line between being honest about your feelings and being too honest with friends?”
Honesty is important in a friendship because it creates a sense of mutual trust. But it’s not always easy to know when and how to be honest, especially regarding sensitive topics. In this article, you’ll learn how and when to balance truth and tactfulness.
Before you say something honest but potentially hurtful, ask yourself whether you are acting in your friend’s best interests. If the answer is “Yes,” it’s usually OK to be honest.
For example, if you know your friend hasn’t dressed appropriately for an occasion and their outfit could cause them some embarrassment, it’s good to be honest with them even if it feels awkward. It would be appropriate to say something like, “Hey, I should tell you that if you don’t smarten up a little before we go out, you might not be allowed into the club.”
If you think you are in a toxic friendship, it’s a good idea to be honest about how you feel if you want to try saving the friendship. Sometimes, people do not realize that they are hurting others. An honest conversation can lead to positive change.
Use this formula:
- Briefly describe the behavior that is making you unhappy
- Tell them how it makes you feel
- Say what you’d like to happen in the future
“You often speak over me when we talk. When you interrupt me, I feel like you don’t care what I have to say. I’d like you to let me finish my sentences.”
Do not embarrass your friend by delivering a blunt truth or raising a sensitive issue in front of other people. Be as discreet as possible.
For example, if they are flirting with someone else’s partner at a party and people are starting to stare, it would be best to take them aside to a quiet corner and say something like, “Hey, I know you’re having fun, but you’re clearly flirting with that guy, and people are starting to stare at you.” Calling them out in front of the other guests might put them on the defensive and start an argument.
You can deliver an unpalatable truth without using harsh words.
Let’s say your friend asks you whether you like her new boyfriend. Your personal opinion is that she should stop seeing him because he is dull, lazy, and spends an inappropriate amount of time looking at other girls when you’re all out together.
A brutally honest response would be: “Your boyfriend is boring, openly gawks at other women, and you should dump him. He’s a loser.”
A gently honest response would be: “If you’re happy with him, then I’m happy for you. But I’ve noticed that he has a habit of looking at other women when you’re out, though, which isn’t good.”
A gently honest response:
- Respects your friend’s feelings and choices
- Makes it clear that you want the best for them
- Refers to specific instances to make a point instead of relying on generalities (e.g., “he’s lazy,” “she’s annoying,” “you’re always late,” etc.)
Only resort to brutal honesty if both of the following are true:
- You’ve tried gentle honesty
- You truly think it’s essential that your friend hears what you have to say; for example if you know for sure that they are about to invest a large sum of money into a scam
When a friend tells you about their problems, think carefully before jumping in with your opinion about what they ought to do. Unless they specifically ask you for advice, they are probably looking for empathy and understanding, not possible solutions.
For example, let’s say your friend, who you’ve known since you were both teenagers, is training to be a doctor. It seems an odd career choice for them because they’ve always been more interested in history and languages than science.
One day, they start telling you about their recent troubles:
Friend: “Med school is so hard. I’ve been so stressed lately, sometimes I even think I should drop out. I’m exhausted.”
Honest but unhelpful response: “Maybe you aren’t well-suited to medicine. Do you think you should switch to history instead? You were always good at that in school.”
Empathetic, more helpful response: “That sounds really rough. I always heard that medical school was hard. How long have you been feeling like this?”
When you know someone well, it’s easy to assume that you know what’s best for them but remember that they need to make their own decisions. Aim to be a good listener rather than an adviser.
You should be honest with friends when it’s in their best interest or when you need to ask them to treat you differently. Before sharing your thoughts or feelings, ask yourself, “Is this helpful? Does my friend need to hear this?”
Honesty is a desirable trait in a friend. Friends should be honest with each other most of the time because honesty is key to building and maintaining trust.
In some circumstances, brutal honesty can be the best option. For example, if your friend is about to make a very bad decision and has ignored tactful feedback, you can try being blunter when sharing your opinion.