Who tells you you’re wrong?


From work to personal relationships, many studies suggest honesty and trustworthiness are among the top few traits we value most in others.  Yet I think we struggle to be open to hearing it, and to share it with others.   In this article I want to talk to finding people who are able to be truly honest with us.

Honesty can hurt.  We want to be liked and feel part of the group.  We don’t want to be wrong, to fail, to be less.  Trust requires trust.   I think these are the main drivers in the lack of truly honest feedback in both personal and professional situations.

The thoughts behind this article started mid-2015,  I have lots of thoughts,  far more than make it to paper *laughs*.  This one finally has after two recent discussions, one professional mentoring and another on feedback.  On reflection though, I feel that the extent to which we either fail to seek, or fail to provide honest input into another’s life is perhaps our greatest failing in the current age.   As we continue to shift from deep and long term relationships towards shallow social media connections and migrating populations, our ability to find people that do more than tell us what we want to hear grows smaller and smaller.

I am not suggesting 100% brutal honesty 100% of the time.  I believe there are many occasions during any given week that withholding information or telling people what they need to hear is actually the best thing for them at that time.  E.g. focusing on the positives of your child’s football game rather than the mistakes.   What I am talking about is growth opportunities,  the feedback we need to improve who we are,  or to be told we are wrong and take stock of that.

There are two sides, so let’s start with ourselves shall we.  The major player on this side is what in psychology they call ‘confirmation bias’, and it’s basically when we seek out information that is consistent with our beliefs.  For me, beliefs can be anything from value based beliefs all the way to situational, like interactions or significant events.   We tend to seek out people that will confirm we are right.  Right that Jane is always rude.  Right that I am just goal oriented and not at all forceful or blunt.  Right that I am not treated fairly.  Right that men a pigs.   That should give you enough to continue with your own examples.

Now spend a couple of minutes thinking about some of your recent challenges and who you went to speak to about them.  Did they contradict your thoughts/perceptions at all?  Or cement your beliefs and confirm you are right?

The area that plays on both sides of the fence is around our need to feel part of the group.  However your define your group(s) I guarantee you have a few and you would not survive without them.  Evolution has this need very very deeply seated in us and it drives behaviour.    For us who need the feedback, we generally seek it from those inside the group, more likely to support us and more likely to be aligned with us in values.   We use these cries for help, cries for confirmation as a technique to strengthen belonging because as a group if we feel the same way then we are stronger.   Think about your group at work, and who is not in that group.   How do you feel about the group you’re in versus other groups in the office you are not in.

Switching over to others;  the need to be part of a group also drives us to tell others they are right, the group supports you, stay with the group.  If the group didn’t support each other it would quickly disband.  Now this group can be just you and one other, or two others, or one hundred.   Commonly the smallest group is a friendship, then a group of friends etc.  Think about how important it is for your closest friend to support you through your hardest times.  Have they ever asked you to reconsider your perspective, or provided some feedback in general about where they see you constantly struggling?  I hope so but I suspect pretty rare.

Other people also have the need to belong too, and so agreement and support keeps others connected and they feel valued.  Think about the impact to them if they always walked around telling everyone exactly what they thought.  As I said I am not suggesting people do this either, it would damage relationships and they would end up outside the group(s), perhaps alone.  Nothing negative in any of this, it is just how we work.

Trust – I read recently that trust between two people is like an onion skin.  It is never just there or not there, but rather slowly built upon over time and events.  I wanted to emphasise trust because without it we aren’t going to be either listening or sharing.   It is the essential ingredient for both parties to be able to hear that others don’t agree, and for others to provide honest reflection or feedback.  I flag it because I encourage people to think about trust and try to develop trust in people not always in our groups.

Actively seek out people who can be objective and reflect on those you currently seek feedback from.   Are they just agreeing?  Have they ever disagreed?  Have you asked them to challenge you?

And for those fortunate enough to be called mentors, leaders, friends or family; I challenge you to think about your contribution to the person seeking your guidance.  If you have an honest interest in seeing them happy then find a way to tackle the tough subjects.  To be warm, caring and supportive while redirecting.

My only caveat – take advice and feedback for consideration.  Having a few people you can talk with will help get a balanced view but in any case reflect on it all and make sure it is right for you.  Us humans also have a remarkable ability to view everything (including the advice we dish out) from our own lens.  What might be right for someone else doesn’t have to be right for you.  And a pain point for someone else can also form a strong bias in their feedback to you.

Have a good one!


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