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10 Principles for Effective Truth Telling

January 18, 2018



Did you see Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes?


Yeah, that one. 


It hit just the right note. For me, it was a declaration of something I’ve been waiting for my whole life. 

“What I know for sure, is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”


Thank you, Oprah! Finally. 


You’ve heard of compulsive liars, right? 


I’m a compulsive truth teller. 


Just last week, my husband gently accused me of this, saying, “Hannah, I don’t say EVERYTHING I’m thinking.”


Believe me, I don’t either, although my expression usually betrays me. No poker face here. 


But if you ASK ME (which he did!), then you will get my truth. I’m compelled to tell you at least the most honest thing I can reasonably and appropriately say at that moment.


Not everyone likes it. 


Especially when I was a kid, the adults in my life really didn’t like it. I was a polite and quite agreeable child, way more reserved than I am as an adult. But I did tell you what I thought, especially if asked, and hearing someone’s truth, even or maybe especially a child’s truth, can be very uncomfortable. 


If you’ve ever been truth-bombed by a kid, you know what I mean. It stings! I have children who do it to me all the time now. And I really try to listen because, man, those kids have a point.


As a young social worker, I was surprised that people STILL weren’t super happy to hear my perspectives. Being a compulsive truth teller, shutting up wasn’t really an option for me. So that meant I had no choice but to work at becoming more skilled, effective, and powerful with my delivery. I had to learn how to become an influential and effective communicator.


It worked. People started listening. Not always agreeing. Not always changing. But definitely listening. 


Cultivating my truth telling skills has become a lifelong quest for me – one I’m incredibly passionate about sharing and teaching.


It turns out most of us really struggle with EFFECTIVE truth telling, especially in disagreements.


I wrote about why this is so last week on the blog (check out Two Big Reasons You Suck at Disagreeing (And Why it Really Matters) here). 


So let me give you my complete playbook, and let’s start nailing down this truth telling thing. Let’s make Oprah proud.


Here are my 10 big principles that guide highly effective truth telling. While not every single one of them applies to every situation, you’ll discover that they will all come in handy sooner or later.  Master these principles, and you have mastered the secret to being an effective and influential communicator.   


1. Don’t attempt to be right.


No matter how strongly you feel about your truth (and we all do), you aren’t some divine and all-knowing deity. You are a mere mortal. Therefore, being “right” isn’t truly available or even desirable for that matter. Being effective is NOT about absolutes. It isn’t about winning, knowing, or being correct. 


It’s about sharing a perspective. One perspective. Your well-reasoned and thoughtful perspective.


In order to be a truly influential person, you need to possess a deep humility that comes from understanding that your perspective isn’t the only one perspective. It isn’t universal doctrine. 


If you want to be a powerful communicator, you must be willing to abandon the need to be right in favor of your message being received instead. You understand that any method of communication that results in a power struggle to be right will never be effective. 



2. Focus on making YOUR perspective thoughtful.


Don’t make the mistake of expecting everyone else to make sense. The truth is people are largely emotional and therefore say and do things that have little basis in reason a whole lot of the time. You need to know and accept that’s just how it’s going to be. 


Your job is not to enlighten the ignorant masses and demand that they make sense. (Although it would be nice if they did, wouldn’t it?) Your job is to be thoughtful, reasonable, and grounded. 


Question your own assumptions, expose yourself to alternative viewpoints, use critical thinking. As you experience more of life, update your viewpoints and allow your perspective to evolve.


Make yourself as wise as you can, and then be humble enough to realize that there’s always room for more wisdom.


3. Use validation.


Being effective and influential means knowing how to package your message. This is hard and takes a lot of work. Communication super tools are worth learning, and I encourage you to keep following my blog, because we are going to cover a lot of ground on this topic. 


But I’ll share the most super of the communication super tools with you right now – validation.


Validation is about letting someone know that you hear and understand their perspective. It’s not about agreeing. It’s not about being passive. It is about is actively listening, absorbing what they are saying, and then fully and mindfully letting them know you have done so.

Here are some examples: 

“I can see where you are coming from.” 

“I hear this is important to you.” 

“I think I’m getting some of what you are saying here.” 


Basically, validation is about making an effort to be in the conversation, to connect, and to be skilled enough to say that in words. 


Why is validation a communication super tool? Because it forces you to actually listen. It also helps the other person feel more at ease and more able to listen in return. It opens up your ability to relate, to connect. 


And guess what?  The only way influence ever happens is when a sense of connection has been established.


4. Accept that influence goes both ways.


I’ve never influenced another person without being influenced myself.  And I’m willing to bet the same is true for you. Why? Because you can’t be a truth teller without being a truth receiver. 


If you stubbornly say what you think but are never open to truly hearing and receiving the words of others, you won’t be a powerful communicator.  


You can’t open up others to new ideas if you yourself are closed. It’s that simple. 


I’ve come to expand my thoughts and perspectives so many times, to have a more nuanced sense of the world because, when I’ve shared my truth, I’ve been given other people’s truths in return. 


Truth is a patchwork quilt. It takes all sorts of truth-fabric pieces to really get a picture of what the actual truth might look like. We will probably never quite know the actual truth, but communicating and listening to each other’s truth is a beautiful and collaborative process. 



5. Don’t expect a resolution.


When you offer your perspective, most of the time people aren’t going to thank you for gracing them with your thoughts. They will not bow down in gratitude and immediately agree with you. 


Truth telling is not an outcome. It’s a verb. It’s something you do. You engage in it because you care enough to say something, not because you demand or even expect a result. 


Effective communication is letting go of what will happen as a result of what you say. It’s effective because you said something that was able to be received by another person, not because it changed something right then and there or even ever. 


You need to be content that at least there is a seed of a chance for something to give, for some new understanding to emerge . . . eventually. Holding on to achieving a resolution will only lead to a power struggle. And power struggles are ineffective. Period. 


6. Embrace the power of human experience.


It can be frustrating when you make a well-researched, very logical argument only to be countered with a personal anecdote. Very frustrating. 


But the truth is that soul-less data doesn’t change minds. Life does, particularly what we have experienced in our relationships. And this applies to everyone. I don’t care who you are, you will absolutely hold much tighter to what you’ve lived than what you’ve been taught. 


Life is our most powerful teacher. 


So if you want to be a truth teller, you need to know and accept that everyone makes sense in the context of their lives. Everyone’s truths are a reflection of their lived experiences. 


If you want to influence someone, you need to be connected, to be part of their life in some small way. Connecting through sharing and caring is what really allows communication to take place between two people. It’s how you come together. 


7. Embrace change as a (long) process.


If you are lucky enough to be a positive influence on another person (which means you are also being influenced by them), it won’t be as quick or as easy as you want. 


The truth is often no change occurs when you connect, share, and tell the truth. But sometimes it does. And only with great patience. 


In my work as a therapist, I don’t aim to change anyone. I believe people are already terrific just the way they are. But sometimes I influence their perspective. (And they always influence mine.) It’s a slow process.


They say a great therapist is someone whom you can conjure up in your own mind and therefore internalize their perspective and start to apply it to your life. That type of influence is only achieved through connection and time. 


One of my clients calls it “the drip method.” One tiny drop of truth at a time. 


8. Let go of fixing and changing.


You are at your most effective communicating and truth telling best when you don’t try to fix anyone or change anything. 


It’s really a process that involves letting the chips fall where they may. You take the (good) risk of communicating the truth in the most compelling way possible but then totally let go of what might happen next. It’s a leap of faith. 


Now I certainly don’t recommend taking this approach with people who are prone to violence or can cause you direct harm in some other way. That’s a different story. But if the risk you are taking is simply that emotions will be on the line, then you need to be adult enough to feel yours and let the other person have theirs. 


Emotions are a great result of effective communication. They are actually what is powerful about truth telling. There is nothing else that motivates all of us like emotions. No feelings will result in no change. 


Brave truth tellers speak up and allow the emotions to happen. We are all big and bold enough to handle the truth if we allow both ourselves and others to feel the feelings. 



9. Embrace that every person has the right to think and feel whatever they choose.


You absolutely cannot control other people’s thoughts and feelings. Ever. They have a fundamental right to believe whatever they want. To feel whatever they choose to feel. Completely. 


Be wise enough to say your piece and move on in the face of people who really aren’t open to influence. It’s their right. Move on. Let it go. 


You can waste a lot of time raging against brick walls of people who aren’t willing to hear another point of view. That’s time you could be spending with people with whom you can converse and connect. 


10. You aren’t that important. 


You aren’t going to save the world. You aren’t going to be the great enlightener of all people everywhere. You just aren’t that important or special.  Thank heavens!


I say thank heavens because this reality should be a big relief! 


Go back to your life. Fool around on Snap Chat. Memorize the lyrics to your favorite song. Laugh at a cat video on YouTube. 


Life is fleeting, so let’s enjoy it. Be a truth teller but pace yourself. Don’t be willing to die on every hill. Choose the battles that matter most to you.

If we mobilize a tribe of brave truth tellers, there will be plenty of us to do this work. 



I'm Hannah and I teach really nice people-pleasers and conflict-avoiders how to be both big-hearted AND totally badass truth tellers. Ready to speak up with courage? Get your free Confidence Action Plan here!


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