I was talking to my friend Margo about a chronic issue that spanned more than a few of my life categories.
She said to me–simply, plainly, without judgment–
“You always complain about this.”
The shock of her words was somatic. I experienced them in every cell of my being.
My default response to anyone’s frank feedback used to be: “How dare this person say that! Why would this person say that to me? This is their crap, not mine. I’m so hurt that they would say that, so they must be the mean one, here!”
Luckily, I’ve orbited the sun enough times to understand that what I feel as a default response is not always the full truth of a situation.
So when I heard her words, I took a deep breath.
I asked myself: What do I know of Margo?< That she is an incredibly loving champion of her friends. She lavishes praise when it’s due. She’ll go the extra mile to support someone, to let them know that she utterly cherishes them. Sure, she could have phrased it differently. She could have just let me vent. She was choosing, instead, to do something that we’ve created enough safety in our friendship to have: truth-telling that helps one another move past delusion.
What Kind of Friend Are You?
I see this all of the time, especially with business: People simply don’t want to tell a friend the “truth.”
People either only share the positives–“Yeah, sure, quit your job with no savings and go after what you want; I believe in you!”–without any of the critique, or, they just don’t say anything.
Not saying anything is more common in conflict, in times when someone does something that kind bugs you or gets on your nerves (like me and my complaining were starting to bug Margo).
“Handling” the Truth
Instead of “Just go for it!” cheerleading, someone might be better supported by being asked what it is that they are open to hearing. You could start with the question: “Are you open to some feedback?” or “I have some thoughts–what are you wanting more, right now? Listening? Feedback? Reassurance? I’m totally here to offer the support you need.”
You can let the person be in choice around what they want to hear.
Let’s say that they want to hear the truth, or at least your interpretation of it. Great! Then offer the truth, kindly phrased and without the cheerleading. That could look like:
“I love you–and–have you considered this other approach?”
“Hmmm. I know you’re really excited about this, and yet I don’t know that that’s such a great idea. Here’s why I’m thinking that.”
“I worry about ________ happening if you do that. I’m wondering if you’ve tried…? Have you already thought about…?”
Then there’s the flip-side–someone feels conflict in a relationship. They want to speak up. They aren’t sure how. So instead of rustling up conflict, they…decide to just avoid it. Not say anything. Not speak up. Just keep on, keeping on.
This sabotages untold relationships. It never even gives the relationship a true chance. This behavior assumes the other person can’t handle the truth.
But what if they can?
What if they would thank you for it?
What we fear about telling the truth is that someone will get mad at us. And probably, we’ve got some evidence for that happening, from our past. Someone asks you straight up for advice, and then when you give your take on it, they get upset: “I just wanted someone to hear me out!” Someone talks to you about a problem in their life, and then they get upset with you. “It’s not what you’re saying, it’s the WAY you’re saying it,” they say.
In other words, they told you they were open to feedback but they weren’t really open. It happens. We’re human. We get mixed up. We ask for advice when we want hugs; the people we talk to get on a power trip and deliver criticism harshly, instead of kindly.
But how often is it the opposite? How often do we avoid saying what needs to be said, and then get angry at someone else for not changing? Or how often do we only cheerlead, and then we watch a friend careen towards disaster?
What’s love, in those cases?
It astonishes me how often I hear women talking about other women, bad-mouthing friends for things that the other party probably has no idea they’re even doing, setting up the situation so that change is impossible.
“What does she say when you try talking to her about it?”
Cue uncomfortable silence. Sentences that are started and re-started. The admission that no attempt to talk has been made.
What in the world are we doing to one another?
The icy shock of Margo’s words were hard to hear, but as I considered the last five conversations I could remember, there was something even more shocking:
She was telling the truth. I had been complaining.
After that, I became so acutely aware of that complaining dynamic, that the problem I’d struggled with actually started to shift and become better.
That’s what being “supportive” really looks like: someone who cares enough to tell you the truth, trusting that you are adult enough to decide what you want to do with it.
The next time you’re inspired and someone reminds you that the road might be hard, don’t cast them off as a “wet blanket” who “doesn’t support” you.
The next time someone offers you feedback about how you show up, hold the space that yes, this is their experience, and also–they might be right. Their feedback might be vitally important.
The next time anything unpalatable arises, be willing to look at the truth it might be trying to teach you.
“The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”
~ Rumi ~