Honest Communication: Finding Balance Between Brutal Honesty and Toxic Positivity
Last month, I wrote about creating a healthier community and touched on healthy communication. Let's explore a little more about what that means, and how we can find balance and communicate with kindness and honesty.
The pH Scale
Who remembers basic chemistry? I remember learning about the pH scale, which is a way for chemists to measure how acidic a substance is:
Everyone knows that the more acidic a substance is, the more likely it is that you'll get burned. (It's acid, right?)
So what does this have to do with how we communicate with each other?
The Communication pH Scale
I think of the pH scale a lot when hearing conversations about people being too negative, or asking people to be more positive. Sometimes it feels like people are operating with a pH scale like this one:
The more positive, the better, right?
That's not necessarily true though; if you think about the chemist's pH scale, an alkaline (or basic) substance will burn you just as badly as an acid. To me, measuring communication only by "negative vs positive" is too simplified. People are complex and things aren't always so straightforward.
If we add in honesty as a factor, it's a little bit more accurate:
Cruel lies would be hurtful in an obviously negative way. This doesn't happen much here, thankfully. Toxic positivity is also hurtful though, and it's sneaky because it operates under the guise of being positive and community-centered. But it dismisses real hurts or problems in favor of always being positive... and that can be just as harmful as cruel lies.
There's one more thing missing from this scale: brutal honesty.
Brutal honesty is also pretty tricky, because technically someone would be telling the truth or calling attention to real problems, but it's often done in a hurtful way, with sarcasm, insults, or caustic remarks. It prioritizes honesty without considering the real impact that words can have on an individual.
Both brutal honesty and toxic positivity have the effect of shutting down any productive discussion.
Finding the Balance
A balanced pH for communication is probably between 6-8; we are all different, and that's okay. True neutral communication is hard and not always practical.
Here are some things to try if you're not sure how to find your own balance:
1. Active Listening
Be a good listener. When someone opens up and shares their thoughts or concerns, they're being vulnerable with you. It's important to listen attentively without passing judgment or interrupting. This helps people trust you and feel comfortable discussing things openly.
2. Validation of Feelings
Recognizing the emotions of others plays an important role in promoting balanced communication. Rather than dismissing or downplaying someone's feelings, provide empathy and encouragement. This helps our working relationships grow stronger with time.
3. Mindful Language
When expressing your honesty, try to be mindful of the way your words might be perceived by others. Taking a moment to reflect on how they might interpret what you're saying can go a long way. (Remember, you can use "The Judge" on goblin.tools if you're not sure). Instead of being overly harsh or critical, aim for honesty that is delivered with kindness. Consider the impact your words may have and write your message with empathy and respect.
4. Constructive Feedback
When giving feedback or criticism, it's always helpful to approach it constructively. Take the time to provide specific examples and suggestions for improvement, and don't forget to offer some encouragement and support along the way. Constructive feedback is all about helping others grow and develop, while also preserving their dignity and self-esteem.
5. Emotional Intelligence
Developing emotional intelligence can be really helpful when it comes to navigating tricky conversations. It's important to cultivate self-awareness so that you can recognize your own emotions and how they might affect your communication. Having empathy allows you to truly understand where the other person is coming from and respond in a kind and understanding way.
Where are you on the scale?
Effective and genuine communication means finding a fine line between toxic positivity and being overly blunt. It's hard, but by being aware of how we communicate, we can build authentic connections, grow as contributors and leaders, and cultivate a stronger community.
Where are you on the communication pH scale? Personally, I'm probably around a 9... positive and truthful, but not always super direct about it. I'm trying to get better, though - and so can you.
I tend to read the magazine on my iPad and every time I try to rate an article 5 stars it never seems to work. I wanted to give this excellent article 5 stars but it was impossible and also impossible to correct. Well, maybe it’s my fingers that are too big. I should try to remember not to rate from now on but I bet I will forget how this goes next time I come across something really good 😅