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  • Bob Burg

“If Benjamin Franklin had picked someone to teach the lessons in self-mastery that he used in his life, he would have picked Bob Burg.”

~ Vic Johnson, Founder AsAManThinketh.net

The Hidden Meaning of Brutal Honesty

January 25th, 2013 by Bob Burg

brutal-honesty-boxing-glovesThose who take pride in being “brutally honest” are typically more interested in being brutal than they are in being honest.

Indeed, sometimes difficult and uncomfortable things need to be said (and honesty in saying them is very important!). Usually, however, they can be said with tact and kindness.

Being “brutally honest” is often more about the person speaking than about the person they are speaking to.

When I posted this on my Facebook page I received lots of comments; most in agreement. But, several people seemed to equate tactful, diplomatic honesty with a lack of authenticity. I’ve seen that same sentiment expressed in other posts and articles, as well.

Hmmmm. That concerns me.

Why? Because, I cannot understand why that dilemma would even come into play? In other words…

Why would someone believe that honesty must necessarily include brutality?
And, for that matter, that to be less than brutal in your honesty is to somehow be less honest or authentic?

Sure, there’s a time and place for most things. And, a small percentage of the time, there might need to be brutality in that honesty.

But, that’s a small — an extremely small — percentage of the time.

Usually we can be honest in such a way that it effectively communicates the point while still allowing the other person to feel good about themselves. To strengthen rather than diminish.

As my friend, People Skills Authority and Coach, Kate Nasser teaches, “Civility doesn’t weaken your message; it helps others to hear & embrace it.”

And, a very tough but successful General and later U.S. president, Dwight D. Eisenhower even said: “You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.”

And, I believe it’s the same when dealing honestly with anyone.

What do you think?

82 Responses to “The Hidden Meaning of Brutal Honesty”
  1. Definitely too much assault going on… And too little leadership.

  2. Edie Galley said at 8:27 am on

    Bob, I appreciate the way you took on a tough topic in this post. I think the need to be honest is absolutely necessary, but the need to be brutally honest says more about the person doing it than the message. The message is not always one someone wants to hear but may need to and doing it in a way that is tactful and considerate gives it an even greater chance of being heard. I like past President Dwight D Eisenhower’s phrase “…it’s an assault…” Not much listening can go on during an assault.

  3. Bob Burg said at 9:42 am on

    Jeff: Great way to put it. Thank you!

  4. Bob Burg said at 9:43 am on

    Edie: Thank you. I think you commentary is spot on. Thanks for sharing with us!

  5. Joe Mann said at 9:50 am on

    Honesty doesn’t require ANY adjectives. Honesty has an agenda, which is to make the situation or person or group better. Or, perhaps correct negative behavior. Any other agenda is dishonest.

  6. Bob Burg said at 10:03 am on

    Terrific, Joe. Thank you for sharing that great thought with us! I will add – if I may – that utilizing tact and diplomacy in conjunction with that honesty is a way of telling someone something they need to hear which will generally be much more productive for everyone involved. There are ways of telling someone they have bad breath that can shame them and there are ways of telling that – while they still might not enjoy knowing they have that problem – will be much more beneficial and edifying. 🙂

  7. Laura Morgan said at 11:23 am on

    Love this.

    If you need to be “brutally honest”, it usually means that the information you need to share is going to be tough for the other person to hear. Which means the information itself is brutal enough!

    If we share brutal stuff with kindness, firm compassion, and an emphasis on making change, then we get to the results we want. If you can get results that way, there is no reason to do it any other way.


  8. Bob Burg said at 11:26 am on

    Laura: What a terrific point and commentary. Thank you for sharing with us!

  9. Thanks for your wonderful use of words again Bob. I love this post. For me the point of being honest is to help the other person see the opportunities for their success. Since improvement is not a one time event, my hope is that I will be able to mentor that person again in the future, and they will want to be mentored. If “brutality” is involved, it will generally result in the person avoiding you as opposed to seeking you out.

  10. Lene Jytte Hansen said at 11:39 am on

    SO TRUE: “Being “brutally honest” is often more about the person speaking than about the person they are speaking to.” LOVE this centence!!!!!!!!!!
    It’s the same with Judgemental. What comes out of a persons mouth is that persons reality and the viewpoint that person is able to take. NO MATTER if it’s positive or negative. If “brutally honest” comes into play – one is sourrounded the wrong people. It’s a mindvirus and an experience, that when people are honest it’s most often something bad they are going to say. AND another thing also comes into play. The person that “NEED” to be brutally honest – often does it to make themselves look better by making the other one wrong – NOT a good condition to be in. I can tell what works with me. Acknowledge what you think is GOOD – and you have to really mean it!!!!! then I’ll be open to correct anything sugested, if I can see it’ll make a better result. Well this is MY experience and my oppinion – You can always find something POSITIVE to say, to make people “right” so they can afford to be a little wrong too 🙂
    LOVE your take on this Bob 🙂

  11. Bob Burg said at 11:40 am on

    Denis: Great points and so very true. Thank you for sharing such profound wisdom with us!

  12. Bob Burg said at 11:41 am on

    Lene: Thank you. I always appreciate your kind and encouraging words. And always appreciate you sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us all the way from Denmark! 🙂

  13. Lene Jytte Hansen said at 12:05 pm on

    Bob I’m so grateful for you and appreciate you VERY MUCH – Thank’s for being my friend!!! From you I can accept ANY truth – brutal or not LOL – because you always see the good, I will be all ears 🙂 THANK’S!!!

  14. Dee Elliott said at 12:23 pm on

    To me being brutally honest means being honest to the core. It does not mean being undiplomatic, nor tactless. I wish more people were brutally honest with me as I try to be with them. I think the definition may be broad and mean different things to different people.

  15. Bob Burg said at 12:49 pm on

    Dee: Thank you for joining the conversation. I don’t see it that way but I certainly do appreciate your sharing your thoughts and interpretation with us.

  16. Kumar Gauraw said at 1:20 pm on

    Enjoyed your post and I do remember that thread on Facebook. Thank you for putting it together here.
    I couldn’t agree with you more. Brutality and honesty not necessarily be combined especially when we deal with people on a one-o-one basis.
    However, from public speaking point of view, some of the world famous speakers are known to be brutally honest from the stage.
    Very recently there was a post from Michael Hyatt about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s famous ‘I have a dream” speech and Michael pointed out that “Great leaders do not sugar quote the reality.”

    I shared my own reservations against that analysis where I did mention to him that you can’t be brutally honest and still maintain healthy relationships at an individual levels whereas you definitely are more powerful when you are talking to thousands of people at once because the target is not one single individual.

    I personally think that being brutally honest is sometimes very useful and positive thing as well. However, where it is appropriate and where it is not, depends on the situation. Don’t you think so?


  17. Bob Burg said at 1:36 pm on

    Kumar: Thank you for your thoughts. If I may comment on your sentence, in which you said, “Michael {Hyatt} pointed out that ‘Great leaders do not sugarcoat the reality.'”

    I’ve never said and hopefully have never implied that one should “sugarcoat” the reality. While I do believe that, through tact, we can make the truth more palatable, we can also make it easier for another person to be open to, accept and embrace the truth. I think that a huge problem is that – in our world of “reality tv” (known as politics) 🙂 it now appears to many that unless you are screaming expletives at a person, that you are sugarcoating and not being authentic with them. I don’t believe this is the case.

    While there is a time and place for most everything, I don’t see the stage as being fundamentally different. When I speak in front of 50 people, 500 people or 15,000 people in an auditorium, my goal is to touch the lives of the individuals in the audience. A crowd is simply a group of individuals. So, “brutal honesty” is still not my style. Honesty, however, I hope IS my style. On the other hand, my friend and Colleague, Larry Winget is – by his very nature and style – brutally honest. That’s him. And, it’s how he connects with people. However, very few people can pull that off as Larry does. 🙂

    Again, just my thoughts in response to your thoughtful comments. Thank you again for sharing with us.

    Oh, and as to your last question about there being a time and place for brutal honesty…of course. As mentioned about halfway through my original post, “Sure, there’s a time and place for most things. And, a small percentage of the time, there might need to be brutality in that honesty.”

  18. Janet W said at 2:39 pm on

    Also in agreement. People like that think of themselves as truth-tellers, but rather than being honest what they are really communicating is, “I don’t care about your feelings, and I don’t care about how effective my message is.” If you hit someone, they put up their hands in defense. If you say something in an abusive way, they put up their emotional armor and get defensive. It doesn’t matter if what you say is true. Do you want change in behavior? Do you want your message to be effective, or do you just want to verbally beat people up?

    Such people are confused about the difference between opinion and fact. For example, “You’re an inconsiderate a-hole” is an opinion, and it’s doesn’t tell them much of anything.

    But this: “When you use up the pots and pans and leave the dirty dishes out all over the counter, then if I want to come in and cook, I have to clean up after you first, and that really pisses me off, because it delays my dinner and I do your cleaning as well as mine, which isn’t fair.”

    This is a completely factual type of statement. It’s not weak, it’s not coddling, it’s being straight, but without vague name-calling and other verbal abuse. It’s the difference between communicating and bullying.

  19. Bob Burg said at 3:02 pm on

    Janet: Thank you. Great teaching, my friend! I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us!

  20. lauren said at 3:09 pm on

    Hi Bob,
    I love this post, thank you!
    I agree with your friend, Kate Nasser, “Civility doesn’t weaken your message; it helps others to hear & embrace it.”
    Personally, I have found that people are much more interested in listening when I don’t “Sucker punch” them first. But, maybe that’s just me. 😉
    Have a great weekend!

  21. Bob Burg said at 3:38 pm on

    Lauren: Thank you. I agree; Kate’s quote is one of the best I’ve ever read. No wonder she’s such a highly-respected coach on the topic of people skills. Thanks again for sharing with us!

  22. It is always difficult to be honest when telling a person something negative that they must be aware of, but the message with brutally honest is ” I really don’t care about how you take this or how you feel”. Diplomacy, tact, kindness is not that hard and goes a long way.

  23. Bob Burg said at 3:39 pm on

    Gayle: Right on! Thank you for sharing with us!

  24. Michelle Sullivan said at 4:59 pm on

    Hi Bob! Love the article! Thanks for writing it! I’ve always wondered when someone asks if they can be brutally honest if that means they have been less than honest at other times when speaking to me! Thus, I cannot help but question the person’s intentions when they start off with this phrase. Usually, it means they are going to criticize me in some way and want to lessen the blow by telling me so first. I’d rather someone be real and authentic ALL the time and be compassionate and considerate of my feelings ALL the time! Not just when they’ve had enough of whatever criticism they are about to share with me. When I was doing sales for a health product, I often encountered people who had become victims of their diseases. When I realized their being a victim was holding them back from moving forward in a direction they had said they wanted, I would gently ask permission to be direct with them. Being direct is a much more gentle way of asking someone if they are ready to hear a possible truth about themselves. I say possible because it may not always be the case and it could be that I am potentially wrong about my observation. Either way, my observation is still a perception they may want to address. Whenever I asked someone permission to be direct with them, they always welcomed the feedback and appreciated the insights. I’m not so sure people would appreciate the brutally honest insight as it’s most often about the person being brutally honest and their “stuff” and has nothing to do with the recipient of that honesty.

  25. Bob Burg said at 5:38 pm on

    MIchelle: VERY well-said and well-expressed, my friend. Thank you for sharing that with us!

  26. Joel Ungar said at 5:20 pm on

    Bob – right on the money. Your first paragraph says it all.

  27. Bob Burg said at 5:38 pm on

    Joel: I appreciate that. Thank you!

  28. Patrick Bolger said at 9:10 pm on

    The phrase “I’m going to be brutally honest” is typically expressed as a pre-cursor to warn others (not the person it’s aimed at) that an opinionated view is about to follow. It’s simply an excuse for what most people would consider an unacceptable, and inappropriate response to someone else’s opinion or perception.

    If you feel the need to express ‘brutal honesty’ – you probably need to improve your argument and communication skills, so you can be open, honest and considerate at the same time.

    Friends who ask us to be brutally honest, typically mean…I need to know what you really think and you won’t hurt my feelings if your opinion is different to mine. In this case ‘brutal honesty’ translates to honesty.

    Dishing out ‘brutal honesty’ means expressing an opinion with disregard for the opinion of the recipient. It’s not honest…it’s arrogant and…brutal.

  29. Patrick Bolger said at 9:18 pm on

    Whilst on the topic…I often interpret “Let’s be honest” as…I am inferring that my opinion is the truth, and therefore you are wrong. And, when I hear “In all honesty” I read this as “I’m being economical with the truth”

  30. Bob Burg said at 9:35 pm on

    Patrick: Many excellent points you made throughout your comments. I appreciate your time and your sharing of wisdom with us. Thank you!

  31. Well Said.. Another Great Post…
    I agree we can be “Brutally Honest” although the Term I would use is Honest and it can be done with “Compassionate Passionate Communications” which is the term I use and prefer all of the time…

    I say Passionate because when we truly Love-Care about somebody we are coming from a Passionate place and all we are attempting to do is Help… and Compassionate because when being Passionate one must also come from a place of Compassion.

    Now Like you said there are those VERY FEW percentages of time – In Crisis, Flight or Flee response, someone is literally harming You, or dealing with Passive-Aggressive people there might be a place and time… or that moment when Your Humanness snaps because we are in a complete state of Vulnerability and our unconscious monkey mind brings up OLD childlike behavior… Again Key catching yourself in the behavior and apologizing and then knowing that Tomorrow is a NEW Day…

    Thanks for another Great Post

  32. Bob Burg said at 10:53 pm on

    Carly: Thank you. Agree with you very much. BTW, in those very rare times when “brutal honesty” truly is needed and is appropriate, I don’t believe it need be, or even should be, emotion-based. If there truly is a need for it then I’d suggest it be done with forethought and specific purpose and intent. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom with us!

  33. Becky Cortino said at 10:06 am on

    Great, thought-provoking piece, Bob! Often, it appears the critic is much more involved in the dissection process, disassembling all elements according to their perspective, perhaps radically changing the result from the original intent. My Thought: Consider the source. Always. Then: Do what you know is best…

  34. Bob Burg said at 10:32 am on

    Becky: Terrific points. Thank you for sharing with us. Appreciated!

  35. Debra said at 10:22 am on

    I’ve often wondered why “brutally honest” is almost always associated with criticism. Why can’t being “brutally honest” include some keen, sincere and exceptional observation of outstanding performance or admiration of a personal trait or characteristic? Imagine what would happen if a CEO called a subordinate to his/her office and said, “I want to be brutally honest with you. Your passion for your job and this company is extremely inspiring and motivating to me and I look forward to working with you every day.” Or, “I want to be brutally honest with you. Your cheerful outlook and can-do attitude is catching and puts a spring in my step.” Or, “I want to be brutally honest with you. I’ve led this company for a long time but your contribution has made me a better leader. I learn something from you in every meeting. I know you go that extra mile and its very hard work to make the kind of contribution you make, but please keep it up because you educate and motivate me to step up my own game. Thank you.” The person offering exceptional commendation (and don’t kid yourself, leaders; there are people in your organization who bring these qualities to work every day) is offering “brutal honestly” in the form of exposing his or her own personal vulnerability.

  36. Bob Burg said at 10:38 am on

    Debra: Thank you for writing. Regarding your initial question, I think the answer has to do with the word “Brutal.” It’s a word that implies thoughts and feelings that are not beneficial. Hence the person bragging out being “Brutally Honest” usually doesn’t mean that in a positive way. That’s probably why it is most often associated with criticism of a destructive rather than a constructive nature. I certainly do LOVE your idea of the kind of encouragement you are suggesting leaders provide to those on their team. I’m just not sure “brutal” is the best word. Of course, that’s just my opinion. On another note, even preceding a statement by saying you are going “to be honest with you” sort of implies that you are not always honest. Perhaps a lead-in phrase, such as, “I take great joy in telling you” or “it pleases me greatly to share with you that…” (or, something similar – I’m not sure that was even the best phrase) would be just as effective. Thank you for bringing up such a great discussion point, and the superb value of providing encouragement to those you lead and influence!

  37. Debra said at 10:51 am on

    Hi Bob – I agree with your point. I included “I want to be brutally honest with you…” as tongue in cheek as it usually preceeds what can feel like a kick in the knees to the object of the honesty. In my example and post, it instead offers an exceptionally positive and personal observation. The “brutal” aspect of this type of honesty–far above and beyond simple commendation or pat on the back for good work–is actually felt by the giver. It can be personally “brutal” for a leader to humbly offer an admission of being a student to a subordinate’s positive contribution, attitude or extra mile. Just a different twist, and you inspired me with your post. Thank you!

  38. Bob Burg said at 11:15 am on

    Debra: Got it. Thank you. Did I ever tell you I was born with an “irony gene” that comes and goes? 😉

  39. Joseph Lalonde said at 12:25 pm on

    This “brutally honest” mentality has been the downfall of many so-called leaders. The theory going around that you have to lay it out flat and lay down the law hard has damaged the way most view leadership.

  40. Bob Burg said at 12:44 pm on

    Joseph: Very true. I’ve seen it myself, as I think many probably have. Thanks for sharing with us!

  41. Dennis Ensor said at 4:07 pm on

    Can I be brutally honest with you? From reading your post and responses, I think I could, and I think you would take it in the best possible way. And that’s pretty awesome. I think it is important that we are honest, but tactful, striving only to improve the situation–not just to relieve our frustration.
    And I think that it’s just as important that when people are “brutally” honest with us, we don’t become so defensive that we don’t hear what may be behind the message–even if it’s really different than the words being spoken (it may really be a cry for help).
    Thanks for you great message and spirit.

  42. Bob Burg said at 4:48 pm on

    Dennis: 🙂 Thanks for sharing with us!

  43. Matt said at 10:33 pm on

    I think that ‘brutally honest’ tends to come from the people on the receiving end of it than those being honest. I am often told I am ‘brutally honest’, but I do not pride myself in being that way and I try to be tactful. I simply state it as I see it.

    There is also a cultural aspect that is lost in all this. I grew up in the 70’s in a germanic culture in Europe. The people of that country were very honest about how the felt about everything and no one took offense to it. When I moved back to the States, I was surprised how much value was placed on making people feel good about themselves. To repeat a grade in school in Europe was almost a given, in the US it would be unheard of. Then you look at how North Americans perceive Asians when it comes to honesty and we use the phrase ‘saving face’. That phrase does not exist within their language – it is a North American phrase.

    I guess it’s all a matter in how you look at being ‘honest’ in the cultural (and by default a personality as well) context.

  44. Bob Burg said at 10:48 pm on

    Matt: Looking at your first paragraph, as you say, it’s not something that YOU pride yourself in being. So, I would imagine that while you are most likely a straight forward type of communicator, you are also most likely not “brutal” in the sense it is being used in this post. Please keep in mind that my post began with the sentence, “Those who *take pride* in being “brutally honest” are typically more interested in being brutal than they are in being honest.” And, remember, nowhere in the article am I saying we should not place a very high value on dealing with people honesty. Thank you for joining the discussion and sharing your thoughts with us. Very appreciated!

  45. Heather said at 6:00 pm on

    AWESOME post, Bob! Thank you for the exceptional value you bring to the marketplace and to our lives.

  46. Bob Burg said at 7:30 pm on

    Heather: Thank you, my friend. very sweet of you, and greatly appreciated!!

  47. Great post, Bob!

    I’m in complete agreement with using diplomatic honesty, and I think that Kate nailed it saying that civility helps others “hear & embrace” the message. In the end, that should be the goal to have the receiver truly understand the message. A tactful speaker can communicate the message clearly and empower the receiver to take action with positive change instead of drowning in some form of negative emotion.

    When talking about leaders of tight knit teams, I think there are significant opportunities for the leader to tailor communication to each individual on the team. The more the leader learns about individual personality styles and communication preferences there can be efficiency gains. The messages should still always be delivered with tact and professionalism.

    Thanks for the post!

  48. Bob Burg said at 10:43 pm on

    Stephen: Thank you. You provided lots of great wisdom and very well-stated. Thank you for sharing with us!

  49. Rhona said at 2:07 am on

    Wow Mr. Burg. I love the post. Great wisdom. 🙂

  50. Bob Burg said at 6:23 am on

    Rhona: Thank you. I appreciate your very kind words! (And, please call me “Bob”) 🙂

  51. […] The Hidden Meaning of Brutal Honesty January 25th, 2013 by Bob Burg Those who take pride in being “brutally honest” are typically more interested in being brutal than they are in being honest. Indeed, sometimes difficult and uncomfortable things need to be said (and honesty in saying them is very important!). Usually, however, they can be said with tact and kindness. Being “brutally honest” is often more about the person speaking than about the person they are speaking to. The Hidden Meaning of Brutal Honesty | Bob Burg […]

  52. […] Bob Burg says, “Those who take pride in being ‘brutally honest’ are typically more interested in being brutal than they are in being honest.” […]

  53. PhillyWoman said at 4:37 pm on

    I’ve just been the recipient of some very harsh brutal honesty in the guise of love. It’s been a few days and I’m still not completely over the shock. I’ve been struggling with it and trying to figure out why and how I left myself so vulnerable to it. I feel betrayed and, yes, in a big way, verbally attacked. It’s a very numbing feeling. You start to question yourself and who you are. You begin to question your sanity. Most of the things said were not true. It was a tongue lashing truly. The biggest shock is that it came from someone who I never expected it to come from. Yes, there are times when we must be honestly open in our criticism but do it with diplomacy and kindness. Never attack. The backlash leaves the recipient hurting and marred. I’ve been trying to come to terms with it. I’m trying to makes some sense of it and finding any morsel of truth to it so that I can learn. That’s how I came across this article. Thanks for the insight.

  54. Bob Burg said at 6:32 pm on

    PW: I’m very sorry that happened. While, of course, I don’t have any knowledge of the situation other than what you wrote above, I’ll reiterate something I said in the original post and that is: “Being ‘brutally honest’ is often more about the person speaking than about the person they are speaking to.” So, to the degree you can, try not to take it personally. Again, I’m very sorry you had to experience that.

  55. katherine said at 1:33 am on

    Let’s look at the root of “brutal.” A “brute” is a bully. So being “brutally honest” speaks to the motivation and character of the speaker and is little more than a self-serving rationalization for abuse under the intended guise of being helpful. Leaves the recipient feeling dazed and confused. Just a form of verbal abuse where the speaker justifies their inability to be persuasive using other more effective forms of communication.

  56. Bob Burg said at 4:19 pm on

    Katherine: In my opinion…VERY-well said!!!!!

  57. katherine said at 8:46 pm on

    Thank you kindly! Love your inspirational message and concomitant depth!


  58. Josh said at 2:16 pm on

    Tell the truth as it is without trying to be anything but honest. Don’t try to be tactful or nice and don’t try to be brutal either.

    If you’re trying to be anything but honest, you’re not trying to be honest, right? That seems simple enough.

  59. Bob Burg said at 9:45 am on

    Josh: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Not sure why – while being truthful – you would not strive to also be tactful. Putting aside the value of kindness (for its own sake) for a moment, even if only for practical reasons being tactful is much more likely to ensure that the person will not only not be defensive and resistant, but is much more likely to be open to and accepting of your advice. And, I’m assuming that is a result you would desire if you’re bothering to take the time to make a suggestion to that person. Regarding your second paragraph, I don’t quite see where being kind and tactful has to in any way negate (or in any other way take away from) being honest. So, while I greatly appreciate and respect your suggestion of telling the truth, I’d need to respectfully disagree that tact and kindness as part of it should not be held as a high value. Again, huge thanks for sharing with us!

  60. Hans said at 1:18 am on

    I’ve always thought “brutal” in relation to the theory of “brutal honesty” was using literary license, a slight modification of the word “blunt”.

    But here I see it referenced often as “brutally honest”, essentially reversing the accent on what is important. Honesty is what is the action/necessity, with “brute” or “blunt” or “tact” is the adjective of how it is carried out.

    It has nothing to do with being intentionally harmful to another to point out their undesired action, be they flawed, wrong, lacking, etc. In my usage, it has been to freely and openly express what I am feeling, why I am doing as I am, what are the motivations behind my actions, why I want or don’t want something. It has nothing to do with others, it has to do with honestly expressing self.

    If I say what I want, maybe that other person wants the same to. If neither of us say anything, neither of us know, neither of us get what we would like.

    Where it becomes “brute” or “blunt”, often times (most times actually) is that other person is not accustomed to the level of honesty being openly offered. We have been conditioned to “not reveal too much”, to not offer others parts of your being that one day they could turn against you, to keep your inner self inside…. self protection, as we cannot freely trust others, knowing we can’t even trust ourselves.

    The reaction to this level of expression is often one of being offended or shocked or in disbelief, not because it is an attack or with intent to hurt, rather it is natural reaction to something outside what we have otherwise been told not to do. Time is required to process this separation from normality, reaction can often been negative or detrimental, where maybe tact would have been better, but then that just strengthens the argument we should never be as open, as honest, as forthcoming as we want, because it is offensive to others, it is blunt, it is brutal, it is in the face of everything before it.

    I’m glad I Googled “brutal honesty”, as I write, with intent to publish, a bluntly honest assessment of myself, and wanted to verify my understanding of the theory as others perceive it. It would appear, given this general misconception expressed above, it is about harming others, which is in exact opposition to my understanding and why I need to use it

    Sigh, in this society, we can’t even express why we are doing some openly, with honesty, without being misconstrued as intending to harm on others through, even if they are purely self serving actions.

  61. Bob Burg said at 6:36 am on

    Hans: Thank you for joining the conversation and for your very well thought-out comments. Indeed, words, terms and phrases have meanings – often multiple ones – so what I would ask you to do in this case is take the term, “brutal honesty” in the context that it was used in this post.

    In this case, it is not so much about being honest as it is about being brutal and thoughtless in one’s approach. Honesty itself is an extremely high value. And, as mentioned, there are even times when it must be expressed “brutally” (as defined within the context of this post). Usually, however, that’s not the case and there’s no reason why being kind or tactful in our approach must be misconstrued as somehow being less than honest.

    Again, greatly appreciate your taking the time to write.

  62. Corrie said at 7:20 pm on

    I needed to read this! I recently opened a new business and had a complete failure of a service with an extremely difficult client. I called my “friend” because I was absolutely devastated and she completely twisted the daggy that was altering my heart. Although there was truth to what she was saying her timing and delivery were way off. It just sent me into a deeper depression. I haven’t even gone to my salon in two days. I just can’t bare it. My heart hurts! This article definitely helped me realize that this woman is no “friend” of mine.

  63. Bob Burg said at 8:48 pm on

    Corrie: I’m sorry this happened to you. Without my knowing the situation I cannot comment on what should or should not have been said (or, how it should or should not have been said). However, if I may, I would suggest that you do your best to not let others keep you from doing what you need to do in order to be effective. She gave you her opinion in the way she obviously does. There’s nothing in the rule book that says you need to let that get to you. That part is up to you to decide. Again, I’m sorry you are going through the discomfort you are obviously experiencing and I wish you well.

  64. maya said at 12:55 am on

    I question whether all these “filters” and “censors” put on what we say and how we say it, is actually helping or harming our society? I honestly believe all this does is make people that are sensitive and thoughtful over think what they say, while brutal people continue to not care. at least for me, I feel added stress in the US to not offend anyone, on so many levels. Whether it be racially, politically, fat shaming, bullying issues, and brutal verses non brutal honesty. Its all a bit much and its a constant battle of courage to express anything anymore.

  65. Bob Burg said at 1:25 am on

    Hi Maya, thank you for joining the conversation. Regarding your concern, I think that, first, it depends upon the context. Secondly, I think we might be talking about two different topics. Remember, the premise of this post is not that you shouldn’t be honest. It’s whether one is more interested in being brutal than in being honest. I think that’s a lot different from the concept of “political correctness” (which sometimes is a positive thing and at other times very counter-productive). My belief is that one can be tactful and thoughtful and still be honest in the way they communicate. Regarding some things you mentioned above, such as racism, intentionally shaming someone, and bullying, those are certainly things that do *not* have a legitimate place in our society and should absolutely be discouraged. And, there is nothing positive about “brutal” honesty when the brutal part is for its own sake. Being honest without being brutal is a much more positive and effective way to live life and it’s something you can control about yourself regardless of how others might act. Thank you again.

  66. Cassandra said at 11:05 pm on

    I agree that you don’t have to be brutal to be honest. And being diplomatic will help you maintain healthy relationships. That being said, I’ve learned through the years if I want someone to really GET IT, the most effective way to get your point across is to be brutally honest. Brutally honesty sinks in, to the point where people do GET IT. It’s called a WAKE UP CALL! It doesn’t bother me if someone is brutally honest with me. I’m thick skinned, and my self esteem is intact. I don’t like being brutally honest with others. I prefer to spare their feelings. But will continue to do so (occasionally) because I’m well aware of it’s effectiveness. Sadly, we all need a wake up call at times. Nobody is perfect. Ann Landers used to tell women “wake up and smell the coffee.” Including some brutally honest advice. Do you think her column would’ve been so popular (and effective) if she was trying to be Ms. Congeniality?

  67. Bob Burg said at 6:55 am on

    Hi Cassandra, thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments. If you’ll note, in the middle of the post I wrote,

    “Sure, there’s a time and place for most things. And, a small percentage of the time, there might need to be brutality in that honesty.”

    While I don’t agree with some of your other premises within your comments, I appreciate you sharing them with us. And, regarding Ann Landers, I saw her style as being more direct than brutal, but that’s just my opinion.

    Very importantly: please keep in mind the main idea of the post was not about *having* to be brutally honest…but the *desire* to be brutal, to be hurtful, in one’s honesty. I maintain that if one’s “desire” or intent is to be brutal – or hurtful – in their honesty, rather than “regretfully” brutal in their honesty then they are doing what they are doing for the wrong reason.

  68. Cassandra said at 1:05 pm on

    Hi Bob, thanks for your reply.

    I think where we differ is our definition of brutal honesty. I see brutal honesty as being “very direct” while others see it as verbal abuse.

    Brutally honesty to me is keeping it real, and letting the chips fall where they may. Verbal abuse (and intentionally hurting someone) is a different ballgame. There’s never a need for verbal abuse.

    Brutal honesty is reality, and verbal abuse is abusive. There’s a difference. In my opinion anyway.

  69. Bob Burg said at 1:20 pm on

    Hi, Cassandra. Yes, I believe we do define it differently. I’d attempted to be clear in my meaning in the way I wrote the article. Apparently, I did not completely succeed in that regard. 🙂

    It’s difficult for me to equate “direct” and “brutal.” It seems to me there is a significant difference between those two words in that a person can be direct and on-point (and constructive) without having to be brutal, or verbally abusive.

  70. Jason said at 4:32 pm on

    I always thought brutal honesty meant being blunt. No sugar coating……straight to the point. I don’t take the word brutal and literally apply the definition of the word to brutal honesty. I guess I agree with Cassandra.

    New Yorkers are brutally honest, and they’re not necessarily hurtful.

    I do agree that tact and diplomacy will get your further, especially in business and your in-laws. I don’t want to end up unemployed or divorced.

    You would think having no filter would alienate everyone. It’s not true. Look at Howard Stern and Donald Trump. They have quite the following….but not with me.

    I think society respects you more when you tell it like it is. You always know where you stand when dealing with straight shooters.

  71. Bob Burg said at 4:40 pm on

    Hi Jason. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us. Again, words have different meanings to different people so if your premise is that “brutal” doesn’t actually mean what its dictionary definition says it means, then that would make sense. I think that within the context of the post “brutal” is meant more like the following synonyms which can be found at dictionary.com: savage; cruel; inhuman; crude; coarse; harsh; ferocious. I personally see that as more than, in your words, “no sugar coating and straight to the point.” Remember, nothing in my post disparages honesty and truthfulness. As you wrote in your comments, “tact and diplomacy will get you further.” Nothing about that says you should be less than truthful. I hope this makes sense. Thank you again for writing.

  72. Brandon said at 1:13 pm on

    Being tactful might require your heart and a few extra brain cells, but it leads to more cooperation, naturally.

  73. Bob Burg said at 8:21 am on

    Brandon: Awesomely stated! Thank you! 🙂

  74. steena said at 9:05 am on

    Great post!
    I have been the recipient of “brutal honesty” and although, I didn’t agree with her reason to address her honesty like this, I accepted it. What really puzzled me, was when I used “brutal honesty” in the same form she did on her and she couldn’t handle it and got offended. I didn’t want to argue, so I let it go. Do you think this behavior is typical with people that use “brutal honesty” when the shoe is on the other foot?

  75. Bob Burg said at 10:46 am on

    Thank you, Steena. And, I’m sorry you had that uncomfortable experience. Regarding the answer to your question, while it depends upon the individual involved, yes, that is very common.

  76. Alyssa said at 1:39 am on

    Hi and thank you for your post 🙂

    I have been known to be ‘brutally honest’ but I can tell you with all certainty that this was in no way meant to harm or be brutal. I have been on the receiving end of both tactful and brutal honesty, and, while the latter can appear quite hurtful, I have known where the person sharing their thoughts with me stands. Unfortunately, as brutal honesty can be used as a weapon, so can tact. I speak from personal experience, working in an industry that has rather a larger population of women than men . Can’t remember who explained that we all need a ‘wake-up call’ but I’d have to agree, there are times when telling it exactly how it is, not disrespectfully, but leaving no room for it to be misconstrued is required, even if not desireable. Consider, if you will, that the brutal part of the honesty is the verbal equivilent of lancing a boil.. A doctor is not going to gently cut it open, because it has to be opened cleanly in order to drain it and minimise infection… If done correctly, this is what a brutally honest person’s intent should be. To drain the situation of all irelivent factors, and present the facts as they stand. I will conclude by also pointing out that, as harsh as this may appear (and I don’t mean for it to be).. We each have a choice in what we do when presented with the opinion of our peers. I know mental health plays a part in this, and it’s therefore more challenging to do for some, but we can, with the right tools, choose to take what is relivent to us, and discard what is not. And when in doubt, ask for clarification so that you do get the other person’s meaning. I, for one, don’t do conflict well, I end up freezing up and walking away from the situation… Why would I then want to be hurtful, even when being brutally honest? We’ve lost the skill set to be able to communicate authentically, and therefore our guards are always up, regardless of the person’s intent, which is, I think where the term ‘brutal honesty’ stems from..

  77. Bob Burg said at 6:02 am on

    Alyssa, thank you for your thoughtful feedback. Indeed, intent is always important, as is meaning. And, of course, there is a proper time and place for most everything. Thank you again!

  78. Danielle said at 9:11 pm on

    I go back in forth between tact and brutal honesty, depending on the situation. And the person I’m speaking with. I would never be brutally honest with someone who’s overly sensitive or insecure.

    You would think being tactful would get you further (and maintain relationships), but look at the people who have the highest rated TV and radio shows. Bill O’Reilly, Judge Judy, Dr. Phil, Howard Stern, etc. And look who might easily become our next President. Donald Trump (scary).

    People like brutally honesty more than others are willing to admit. For one reason, and one reason only. You always know where you stand. Good, bad or indifferent.

    The truth hurts.

  79. Bob Burg said at 7:00 am on

    Hi Danielle. First, please keep in mind, as it states in the article, there’s a time and place for everything. So, yes, it also does depend upon the person and the situation. Whenever possible, best to be honest without being brutal. Tact, diplomacy, and kindness will usually get you much further than will being brutal.

    Regarding the media stars you mentioned, while that’s a function of what draws viewers to certain shows, that’s really not real-world. It’s a persona, like any actor. And, while I don’t know any of them personally, I would hope that when they are dealing with their loved ones, employees, and the waiter at the restaurant, they act accordingly. This does not mean that they are less than authentic when in front of the camera or microphone; merely that they are playing a role, like any actor.

  80. Danielle said at 5:00 pm on

    Hi Mr. Burg… thank you for replying. I agree that tact, diplomacy and kindness will usually get you much further, but you touched on a very important phrase “less than authentic.”

    Being tactful comes across as phony to a lot of people, especially to people who are very direct. They’re trying to be diplomatic, and maintain relationships. But a lot of times it comes across as “telling you what you want to hear… or what the person thinks the other person wants to hear.”

    My husband is always tactful, and I go back and forth between tactful and very direct. I’m told by his family and friends they’d rather deal with me because they’ll get a straight answer. Wow.

    My husband would agree with you 100%.

    I was recently brutal with my boss (he frustrates me) and I got a promotion. It’s not what I had in mind, but I’ll take it!

  81. Bob Burg said at 5:46 pm on

    Hi Danielle (and please call me Bob), there’s no reason that tact should come across to someone as less than authentic or phony….because it’s not either of those. It simply means that you’re…tactful.

    Again, I think what’s happening here is what we call the “false dilemma” (the unnecessary use of the word, “or”). In this case, that you can either be tactful OR direct and honest. Tactful also doesn’t mean that you don’t give someone a straight answer (which you mentioned being the case with your husband).

    No, not at all. Few people want to be yelled and screamed at, made to feel wrong, or otherwise berated. And, most people are less apt to agree with you or take the action you desire when treated that way. Are there some who will? Of course, but we cannot allow the rare few to cause us to act counterproductively when dealing with most people.

    I’ll also go back to what I said in my last response, which I said in the original article, that there’s a time and place for everything. And, that we also need to understand who we are dealing with and how they best respond.

    Regarding the situation with your boss, I don’t know enough of the story (background, past experiences, people, situation, etc.) to speak from a position of knowledge. If you received a promotion *for the specific and lone reason* that you were “brutal” then that’s one of the exceptions that worked for you.

    And, while that’s terrific, I wouldn’t suggest trying to duplicate that strategy with the customer you are dealing with, the customer service rep or supervisor you need to help you, the waiter at the restaurant, the police officer from whom you need assistance, your child’s schoolteacher, or…well, practically anyone else. At least not if you want others to be agreeable to your ideas and requests. Just my opinion, of course.

  82. Steve said at 12:46 pm on

    With the exception of people who just aren’t very nice, I think brutal honesty happens when you’re driven to a point where you just lose it, and it comes out all wrong. Most of us (if not all) have dished it out, and we have to learn to take it.

    Strong people blame themselves, and weak people blame others. When someone is brutally honest with me, I probably had it coming. The truth hurts.

    Tactful is nice, but if it’s sugar coated-save it. I see right through it, and it annoys me. I’m tactful in business and in public (or you’ll never get anywhere), but if it’s someone I’ve know for life (especially a male friend), it’s a crap shoot. What you see is what you get.

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