Delicate Honesty

Delicate Honesty

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 4:25,29

Many years ago, I served as the interim director of a hospital department while recruiting took place for a permanent candidate to fill the position. One of the key supervisors in the department resigned during my tenure. Although I did not encourage her resignation, I believed the new director would have an easier time establishing him or herself without this particular supervisor in place. After she announced her resignation, a hospital executive came into my office, accused me of intentionally driving this supervisor out of the organization, and clearly let me know his opinion that I was setting the hospital back many years by my reckless actions. This exchange bothered me, as the executive was one I held in high regard. While I appreciated his direct honesty, his assessment of the situation was entirely incorrect, and his harsh approach to sharing his opinion negatively affected our relationship for many years thereafter.

In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg writes, “Communication works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding that sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest.” In my work example above, the executive was authentic – he was truly frustrated and concerned with the departure of the supervisor, but he was not appropriate – he did not take the time to learn the facts prior to leveling such sharp criticism. He was honest, but in a brutal, and uncharacteristic manner.

Clearly, being truthful is important. Paul tells the people of the church in Ephesus to “speak the truth to our neighbors” because we are all interconnected. He goes on to instruct that we only say “what is useful for building up, as there is need.” That sounds like a warning against idle or hurtful talk. Finally, he writes that our words should “give grace to those who hear.” Those communication standards are much higher than most of us observe in our day-to-day speech. Repeating Sheryl Sandberg’s point, communication is most effective when we are both appropriate and authentic. Personally, I am much less careful about my words at home than at work. I believe I have my priorities reversed. While it is important to tend to what we say wherever we are and whomever we are with, the power of words magnifies around those we love. Being delicately honest is difficult, but it is a key to being an effective communicator, as well as being a loving companion.

Come home to church this Sunday.

Greg Hildenbrand

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