Let's Talk: Brutal honesty, or sugar-coated truth? Which is more important?

I grew up with the notion that there’s a nice way to say anything; that a few choice diplomatic words can be the difference between somebody leaving a conversation content and upset; that it was every person’s duty to make that effort.

I carry that belief with me to this day. But only recently have I begun to appreciate that the world is more complex than that. Sometimes the blunt path can be the best in the long run.

In high school, I spent a good deal of time seething over the various harsh opinions of a friend. She had a knack for criticising those close to her in the most upsetting possible way: with truth.

Sometimes it was as simple as questioning my taste in music and movies; I was rarely able to explain why I liked something, and left feeling equal parts upset with her and myself.

Sometimes it cut far more deeply: “I’ve got to be honest. The two of you aren’t right for each other at all.”

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Bluntness is tough to take; the natural human reaction is to want to defend yourself. However, it was so much harder knowing she was right. The principles I lived by weren’t always fully thought-out. Her harsh honesty left me reevaluating my own beliefs and priorities; they made me realise I was more naive than I realised.

Yet that tough, non-sugar-coated education genuinely did turn me into a better person. They broadened my horizons, taught me to think before I acted, and most importantly, made me see the world better from outside my own mind.

Would these words have made such an impact had they been delivered politely? As much as I’d like to believe positive reinforcement could have had the same outcome, it’s hard to deny the “tough love” approach worked. Maybe it’s not so black and white after all.

Today we’d like to ask the Starts at 60 community which is more important: delivering the whole truth, or delivering it nicely? Where do you draw the line? When was the last time you gave (or received) a harsh truth?