How to respond to: “I’m going to be brutally honest with you”


What happens the moment you hear, ‘I’m going to be brutally honest with you’?

I tend to filter out the honest part and tense up, wondering about the brutal part. You the same?

You sense what’s coming next. It doesn’t feel good.

We’re ‘brutally honest’ when someone annoys us but we can’t say it to their face.

We dress it up as feedback. It’s passive aggressive. It’s sly and a little bit mean.

I’ve never felt good about myself after giving brutal honest feedback.

And why brutal?

We could just say, ‘Here’s my opinion. Take it or leave it.’

Maybe it’s related to ‘tough love’.

It pre-supposes that you need to hear something very harsh, very painful, which other people aren’t telling you. Something you need to hear NOW. And it’s often true.

Our friends are the last to highlight our weaknesses. You learn more squabbling with enemies. But who wants to do that, right?

Back to the harsh truth.

Here’s how I approach it.

  • Put your feelings on hold for a moment.
  • Examine what they’re getting at.
  • Ask them if your understanding is correct.

‘Ok, I hear you. So, you’re saying the way I manage the team would be better if I did this. Is that correct?’

This helps the other person refine their thinking.

Your aim isn’t to undermine them, or dismiss their feedback, rather it’s to get a better understanding of the underlying problem.

Suddenly, you’ve shifted it from a blame game to a dialogue.

I genuinely believe that most people want to help. They may not have the tools or capacity to give you feedback in an elegant way, so they use stock phrases and business jargon instead. But something in what they’re saying is true.

Of course, it’s hard not to be insulted.

Here’s how I try to deal with it.

  1. Imagine it’s a play.
  2. You’re an actor.
  3. They’re playing one role, you’re playing another.
  4. Remember your lines.
  5. Observe what’s happening.

Why am I saying this?

The weeks and days go by very fast.

Instead of stewing with anger, look hard, as hard as you can at what they said.

Was there some kernel of truth in there?


Ask yourself: ‘How can I turn this to my advantage?’

What can I change today?