How to be honest with someone without hurting their feelings


Families and real friends don’t sugarcoat truths. On the one hand, that’s great. Only someone who really loves us will tell us something we don’t want to hear, so we won’t end up hurting ourselves. But timing and tone are everything. This article will help you deliver that dreaded news or comment without hurting the other person’s feelings, or worse, your relationship.

Speak honestly, but kindly

Don’t just tell your daughter, ‘Your boyfriend doesn’t really love you, he just wants you for sex.’ Sit her down, and say, ‘Honey, I’m bothered about some things your boyfriend does…’ and then explain your reservations.

Know when to talk, and when to listen

We love each other so much that we want to help. Sometimes that means giving advice. Many times, however, all the other person wants is a chance to vent. So listen, stifling the urge to butt in. Give advice only when he feels more open for feedback—perhaps the next day, when he’s calmer. (Read our article for more tips on communicating effectively with your family.)

Criticize the behavior not the person

Don’t say, ‘You’re so lazy!’ which is a direct attack on character. Instead, ‘You could get a lot more done if you finished your work before watching television.’

Talk about goals

Here’s another tip: people don’t like being ordered around, so if you want to change behavior, offer a vision instead. For example, if gentle reminders to finish work before watching television doesn’t work, then say: ‘You could earn x amount just by working in the morning.’ Or give a goal, ‘If you work x hours, and earned x amount, you could save for the car you wanted.’

Acknowledge small victories

The best critics are also the best cheerleaders. You may have to tell your husband, ‘You’re gaining too much weight!’ but you should also be the first to notice when he’s making healthier food choices or has lost a few inches off his beer belly.

Praise in public, criticize in private

If you do have to call someone’s attention to a fault, do it in a private conversation. That prevents embarrassment and will make him more open to your comments. But, give your praise in front of other people.

Be objective

You may feel someone has a ‘fault’ but is this a personal preference or based on objective observation? Examine your motivates and seek advice from other people. For example, if you don’t approve of your teenager’s clothes (‘She looks like a slut!’) ask other parents what their kids wear, and go through magazines or fashion websites to look at trends and maybe offer an acceptable compromise. ‘Hmm, that skirt is too short for me… I like what this celeb was wearing, though, it’s sexy even if it had a longer hemline. Can we work with that?’

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Related Questions
  • Malk06

    Helpful article. I’ve been stuck in this kind of situation many times — you gotta say something but you don’t know how.

  • MomDine

    I love this article!

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  • nina

    Hi, my husband and I are non smokers and we have stopped having a friendship with a couple who smoke because when we visit their home, they smoke in front of us and we can’t breath. We totally enjoy their company, but our friends had passed a comment once stating that if people don’t like what they do in their home then they don’t have to visit. At the time is was not directed to us personally, but my husband took offense and now we haven’t visited in over a year. I talk or e-mail them occasionally but that’s about it. We would like to resume our friendship as to visiting them and they visiting us, but don’t know how to go about it, telling them we cannot deal with the cigarette smoking even if it is in their own home might hurt their feelings. Thank you.

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