Honest: sincere, frank, genuine or unadulterated
Polite: showing good manners toward others, as in behavior, speech, etc.; courteous; civil
There is a time and place for both of these choices, and it depends as much on that other person's state of mind as our own. When we say “I don't want to hurt her feelings”, we are also saying I will keep my true thoughts to myself and this does nothing to help the situation between you and the other person.
Being polite certainly has a place in lighter, shorter or passing conversation. Polite can also be a good way to postpone a difficult conversation. “I can't talk about this right now” or “I'd like to hear more about that later” or something similar so that you can be prepared to have deeper discussion, perhaps in a more private setting. You are also giving the other person time to prepare and think.
Honesty is sometimes confused with being “mean.”
Mean: offensive, selfish, or unaccommodating; nasty; malicious
When we go into a difficult conversation from a vulnerable or open place, we can be honest. When we are defensive, we are mean. Being honest doesn't mean the other person won't have hurt feelings, but the hurt is different. When we are having a deep conversation and when we are being honest, we can't take responsibility for the other person's feelings at the expense of our own. Being empathic in such situations also means the other person isn't left sitting with hurt feelings, but rather you both are talking about your emotions and working through them as they come up.
In therapy, a couple, or an individual can learn to be vulnerable and empathic when it is needed and safe to do so. The therapists at PhiladelphiaMFT have training in Emotionally Focused Therapy to help our clients achieve this goal.
This Topic of the Week was written by Brian Swope, MFT.