Several years ago a very good friend of mine fell in love with a woman who had more baggage than a jumbo jet at Christmas time. Love is a crazy, crazy thing and in spite of all of the issues my friend was head over heels nuts about this girl.
“What do you think of Susie?” he asked one day.
The net had been cast. And I knew my friend wanted to hear me say how wonderful I found his new girlfriend. How extraordinary. How beautiful and funny and charming she was.
She was all of that . . . and then there was all of the baggage too.
With good conscience could I really go along for the ride and give the relationship a seal of approval?
I asked my friend to define the relationship: Was it serious? Or was it a casual, fun fling? Are we talking marriage material or is this a discussion about a friend with benefits?
He assured me he was interested in her for the long haul. What did I think?
I pressed further. Was he really seeking my opinion or did he want me to simply rubber stamp the relationship?
“No, no. I really, really want to hear your thoughts,” he said.
So here’s the dilemma: How do you answer honestly when there’s a pretty good chance your answer is not the one someone is hoping to hear? Is honesty always the best policy?
What Would You Want to Hear?
I considered my response carefully, taking a couple of days to sort my thoughts. I remembered years ago when I’d been in a relationship that had not worked out. After the dust settled I’d asked a close friend if they’d seen the handwriting on the wall before I did. And when they assured me that yes they had . . . in fact well before I ever thought things were going south . . . I point blank asked them, “Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you make me see where this was headed?”
My friend said, “You weren’t ready to hear it. You’d have shut me out of your life and anyone else who tried to tell you the same thing. And then you’d have had no one.”
Being honest . . . . sometimes painfully and brutally honest . . . well . . . it’s the equivalent of taking a walk on the friendship tightrope without a net. One missed step and things can get broken beyond repair.
And yet if we’re not honest we’re not being truthful. To ourselves and to the friend asking our opinion. If, in fact, they really want to hear it.
After giving it some thought, here’s what I said to my friend:
Tell me what you love about Susie. Tell me what you admire about her. What makes her more special than all the other women you’ve known?
Then I listened. I nodded as he told me what he loved about his girlfriend. I agreed when he said she made him laugh and I understood why he enjoyed spending time with her. I shared some of the positive traits I had witnessed seeing them together.
And then I noted there were also parts of their relationship that concerned me. I asked if he would be interested in hearing what they were.
How to Voice Your Concerns
Before I said another thing, I said this . . . and it’s probably the most important part of all . . . : “I care about you. I want you to have a wonderful, happy life. And I want you to know that everything I’m about to say is out of my friendship and affection for you.”
Then I voiced my concerns. Pointing out with each one that although it potentially was a hurdle, it didn’t have to be a deal breaker depending on how it was addressed. I wanted to be honest with my friend and if he decided to continue this relationship, I wanted him to do it with his eyes wide open . . . wherever it might lead.
I saw these concerns as potentially damaging, but perhaps he did not.
He asked for my opinion. I answered. Honestly. Thoughtfully. Truthfully. Prefacing the remarks with my wish for his happiness and well-being. And then let it go.
It’s All About Delivery
Did you ever want to scream, “Look out!” to someone? Do you recall wanting to shake someone out of their daydream and realize what they think is a light at the end of the tunnel isn’t really a light at all? It’s a freight train bearing down on them loaded with disaster and they’re not getting off the tracks. And when it strikes, it’s hard to refrain from saying, “I told you so.” But you must.
We might see a train wreck on the horizon. We might have a pretty good idea of the future based on our own experience. We can hope for a good outcome in spite of all the signs. But at the end of the day the decision isn’t ours to make.
We aren’t responsible for someone else’s decisions . . . good or bad. But we should be responsible for telling the truth when asked.
We don’t have any control over whether or not we’re heard. But we do control what we say and how we deliver the message . . . in a constructive, supportive way. It’s the best way to keep things honest.
So the next time you’re asked for advice, how will you provide it?