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If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

You know you’re just itching to finish the saying. So go ahead, say it. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” There. Now you can feel complete. 

The fact is, you probably heard this saying growing up. Sage wisdom, isn’t it?  After all, being kind, being gentle and being supportive are critical to having solid relationships with those around you.  And I’m all for solid relationships.  

I do take slight issue with the adage, though. Because I think being honest in relationships is actually a more critical factor. And sometimes, being honest isn’t “nice”. Or, at least, it doesn’t “feel” nice, in the traditional sense.  

I have often noticed a tendency of people holding back their whole truth, in an effort to -- you guessed it -- be nice.  They’re not truly saying what they feel called to say, because they “don’t want to offend” or they “don’t want to be rude”. I know I’ve succumbed to this myself.  

 On the surface, this seems like good relationship philosophy. The challenge, however, is that the very best of relationships are built on a foundation of trust. This foundation is predicated on the idea that those involved are being honest, even when the honest truth might not be a “nice” one. 

What are examples of truths that might not be experienced as nice?

  • Telling someone that their choices are disagreeable to you.  

  • Sharing with someone that their behavior is impacting you negatively.

  • Pointing out to someone that you disagree with their point of view.

  • Telling someone that they’re crossing a boundary of some sort -- standing too close, invading your space, taking advantage of your generousity -- or anything similar.  

In any of these circumstances, speaking your truth can be experienced as less than nice. And, it still needs to be said.  If, however, you’re determining what to say based on the supposed wisdom of only saying what’s nice, then you’re selling yourself and your relationship short. What ultimately happens is that the foundation of your relationship weakens and eventually crumbles.

So, how do you tell the truth, even when it’s not so nice? How do you tell someone that they’re drinking far too much and it’s scaring you? How do you tell someone that her choice to not apologize after standing you up for a coffee-date was hurtful? How do you tell your partner that you’re feeling taken for granted? How do you say what needs to be said? In a nutshell, you don’t worry about saying nice things; you focus instead on saying things, NICELY. 

There are always a myriad of ways to say anything. Voice tone, inflection and choice of words make a monumental difference in how a message is delivered and received. If you use a sarcastic tone, sarcasm is what’s heard. If you’re loud, the message is heard differently than if you speak gently. If you sit still and make eye contact, your interaction is very different than if you’re busy typing away on your smartphone while trying to set up a date with your spouse.   

Too many people hold back, stay silent, or avoid sharing their truth on topics and subjects that really do matter. The fact is, if a situation is taking up any amount of brain space for you, it matters and needs to be addressed. Stop hiding behind the “I don’t like confrontation” or “I don’t want to offend” philosophies. You don’t need to confront or offend; you do need to speak honestly.  

Bottom-line:  your truth matters. Your truth always needs to be spoken. While the adage would appear to caution us to speak only when we can say something nice, I think in actual fact the caution is to say things nicely, even the not-so-nice things. When you speak nicely, when you pay attention to impact, when you stay present to all that’s going on (for you and whoever it is you’re talking to) you can, in fact, always speak your truth. And from my perspective, what the world needs now, is more truth.