Couple of disclaimers: 1) I tend to put a lot of stock in honesty, and 2) I do not tend to put a lot of stock in “my truth.” The first was how I was raised, and the second is my own opinion. Nature and nurture.
To start, I think we need to be sure we talk about the difference between being honest and being truthful. We should always try to be both, but the truth of something can be different than how we are honest. Case in point: I can honestly believe I am right about a certain subject, but that does not mean my feeling is truthful. Sometimes the difference can get lost. Sometimes the “truth” is something we have told ourselves so many times and for so long the actual truth gets lost. We need to be mindful of understanding what we see as the truth may contradict, sometimes drastically, from what the other person sees as the truth.
That is where honesty comes in. I think honesty is based more upon feelings and beliefs than upon facts. Honesty centers upon how I am feeling, reacting, and communicating with a person at a given time, and based upon a given subject. Truth factors into the conversation, but if I am angry, happy, or sad about something the fact it may not be true does not cancel those feelings. I might seem more than a little irrational, and it is at that point I should probably take a break from communicating, but I am being honest about my feelings in the communication.
The other side of honesty is when I am communicating with someone, if I want the communication to remain positive and productive, then I need to recognize their honesty might not be truth. I need to recognize the communication for what it is and consider my response carefully. If I am trying to understand their position and communicate my position back to them, then I need to be sure to recognize their feelings. Granted, that assumes the person is genuinely communicating with me, and I can understand the communication, but that burden falls upon both of us. Both parties must be honest if progress is to occur.
With honesty being my goal, I think it helps to take a moment and organize my thoughts. Maybe I am truly angry, and if so, while anger is a necessary emotion and probably honest, I might not be in the best frame of mind to convey what I am thinking. In my experience at least, yelling at the person I am communicating with and making sure they understand I am angry is not productive. Usually, they disengage or get angry back and make it very clear why I am wrong. Because as I have said, I cannot remember a smart thing I said when I was angry. On those rare occasions that I get angry I tend to make as much sense as algebra (please don’t get me started).
So, I take a moment, organize my thoughts, and feel like I can honestly communicate. Or maybe I need another moment, or hour, or day or week. That part really is important: if I do not feel ready to communicate using these tenets then it would be best if I ask for more time. To be fair, I should not use this as a delay tactic, and if I agreed to discuss a certain topic at a certain time, then I need to be prepared. But if I truly need some additional time to organize my thoughts and be able to communicate honestly about an issue then I should ask for that time. On the other hand, if that time is asked of me, then I should give it if possible.
Assuming I have those thoughts organized and am ready to communicate honestly, then what I find to be helpful is acknowledging what I am feeling by simply starting the statement with “I feel” and moving forward. It probably should not be “I feel you are being a jerk”, but something more like “I am feeling anxious because of how we are communicating.” Taking the focus off the other person, stating my feeling, accepting my part in the communication, and honestly conveying what is going on inside my head is the first step.
The second step might be a response saying something like “Thank you for sharing that with me. For my side, I am feeling upset because of this situation as well.”, and back and forth it goes. For me, the frustrating part of these types of communications is at first it seems as though nothing is really being said. Maybe so. But maybe the other person needs to convey those feelings to really, honestly communicate. Maybe I did not understand what those feelings were, and if not, how can I understand their point of view? If we really take a moment to think about it, isn’t that the point of almost all miscommunications? If we only took a few (hundred) steps back and started off by identifying the source of the emotion, perhaps we could work towards a solution.
I know, I know, that seems ideal, and possibly even unrealistic. After all, I think the times we are truly honest is when we first establish trust. If we do not trust the person then the likelihood of open, honest communication is probably slim. And trust is hard. Maybe one of the hardest things to develop or re-establish. But we must start somewhere. Somebody must take the first step. Somebody has to start by saying “this is the idea I am trying to convey, and why it is important to me.” When that happens, I think one of two responses occurs, both of which are positive.
First, the other person will recognize the honesty and trust, and reciprocate. Second, the person will not recognize the honesty or trust, the response will be combative, and I can practice my other four tenets. I start to build a good communication path, or I identify a closed path. I think both are better than not being honest. But again, I put a lot of stock in honesty. I would even go as far as saying that without it you cannot have real communication, and without real communication nothing will truly be solved. Thanks for reading.
Tony A. Potter is a Member of Ward Potter LLC, where he uses his experiences in general civil, trial, and appellate practice to represent clients. Tony received his Juris Doctorate from Washburn School of Law in 1994 and has been continually licensed to practice law in Kansas since 1995. Tony is a member of the Kansas Bar Association, the Wichita Bar Association, the Northwest Kansas Bar Association, and the Chair of the Wichita Bar Association Family Law Committee. His commitment to his clients was also recognized in 2018 when he was acknowledged as an “AV” attorney, peer-rated for high professional achievement by Martindale-Hubbell, and he enjoys a 10.0 rating from the Avvo attorney website. Contact Tony
Ward Potter LLC is a family law firm located in Wichita, Kansas. Ward Potter handles divorce, child custody, parenting time, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, visitation by grandparents, and paternity cases. The firm also provides litigation alternatives such as collaborative family law, mediation, and arbitration. The mission of Ward Potter LLC is to guide clients through changes in their families with empathy, excellence, and expertise. We strive to calm chaos and focus on the resolution, not the battle.