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Straight Talk: Courageous Communication Builds Authentic Relationships

man and woman with megaphones for heads, seated at table facing one another

Do we think before we speak, or hold ourselves accountable for what comes out of our mouth?  Do our opinions or beliefs take precedence over choosing our words carefully? 

Do we give ourselves permission and entitlement to just blurt out what we think or feel?  Do we offend or hurt feelings because we chose not to exercise control over our words? Are we 100% honest when we speak?  Do we avoid straight talk—covering up the truth with fluff? 

How often do our apologies sound something like…

“I’m sorry for what I said. I didn’t really mean it.”
“I was just mad. I’m over it now.”
“I needed you to align with my opinion and you just wouldn’t see it my way.”
“I’m sorry if I hurt or offended you…will you still be my friend?”


How many relationships have dissolved because we neglected the straight talk that could have brought us closer together?


A Communication Workout

When I began working with groups on effective communication, I noticed my own personal talk started getting louder and I started really hearing myself talk. I noticed I was using charged words… “that was awful,” “it was mortifying,” etc. (The most disturbing part is that I was talking about a peanut butter sandwich!)


I had also mastered how to enthusiastically talk in circles to entertain my listeners while saying a lot of nothing. I became a pro at avoiding the hard conversations or anything that felt messy. Straight talk was not part of my communication style, and the courage to be 100% honest was nowhere in sight.


One day I decided there was no reason I couldn’t communicate effectively, and that straight talk would help me deliver my message authentically. I knew that if I had the courage to be honest—and the willingness to think before I spoke—I could have the deeper relationships I desired. 


I decided to fine tune my communication by exercising discipline and control over what came out of my mouth. 


Straight talk became my new communication “workout;” it gave me the desire to speak effectively without hurting or offending someone with lazy word choices. After a few uncomfortable, awkward straight talk moments, I became relationally fit! It was worth it! 


Straight Talk Vs. Ineffective 'Norms'

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to observe people’s verbal—and non-verbal—communication styles. I have seen many ineffective styles of communication and have found that the courage to straight talk with honesty is rare. It became obvious to me that people don’t recognize when their communication is lacking—they don’t hear themselves when they speak. 


I’ve noticed that when things get messy or uncomfortable, people quickly shift into their “norm,” retreating into their familiar verbal escape plan. Two of the most common ineffective “norms” I observed are:


  • Sarcastic humor is commonly used to make a point, express an uncomfortable feeling, or dodge what the speaker truly wants to express. “I was just joking” takes a front row seat, while trust and intimacy begin to crumble. Sarcasm often confuses the receiver, wondering if there is honesty in the sarcasm, or if the speaker was truly just joking. More often than not, people appreciate when someone is willing to “say it like it is,” because it lets them know what they can count on.

  • Passive aggressive communication can be carefully disguised. It is often used by people who keep score and don’t let things go. Low self-esteem leads them to compare, blame, and choose passive aggressive jabs instead of straight talking. (Your new Mercedes is cute. It’s almost as nice as my friend’s car… I love your new dress! I wish I could wear something like that but I’m too skinny for that style…. You’ve done so well for someone with your education level.) This type of communication lacks courage and breaks down trust. It takes the fun out of relationships and keeps us from connecting authentically.


We get to ask ourselves the question, “Am I an honest, authentic straight talker?” Here are a few exercises to begin your own straight talk communication workout:


Take a moment to observe your own communication.  
  • Do you think before you speak?

  • Do you consider that the person(s) you communicate with deserve straight talk? 

  • Does a lack of courage keep you from honestly expressing yourself through straight-talk? Why?

  • Think of someone you admire for their communication skills. Assess why you admire them.

  • Is it important for you to have control and discipline over your communication? How will that serve you and others?

  • Think of someone you want to begin straight talking with and just do it. It will be worth it!


Now go out in the world and lead by example—practice straight talk to build lasting, worthwhile relationships! And let me know in the comments what came up for you!

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