Throughout my life I find people often struggle with how to be honest with someone without sounding too negative.

For example, how often do you hear someone say something really hurtful, but then they quickly follow it up with, “I’m just being honest.” That’s a common excuse we say when we know we’ve just been unnecessarily cruel or mean to someone.

Honesty is important. I believe we need to learn to acknowledge both the “positive” and “negative” that exist in the world – but we have to learn to do that while also not feeding into the negativity itself.

Sometimes it is appropriate to express concern for someone – maybe they are adopting unhealthy habits, or they are making relationship mistakes, or they aren’t making a good decision in their career, or whatever.

A good friend needs to be honest, and that sometimes means touching on subjects that aren’t always very comfortable to talk about. At the same time, we need to do it in a healthy and respectful way.

Bullying, insults, and peer pressure are all negative and counterproductive ways of being “honest” with someone. One recent study found that when individuals are made fun of for their obesity, they are actually driven to gain more weight.

This is just one example of how being “honest” in a mean and careless way can actually feed into negativity. If you want to motivate someone to change, you need to be kinder and gentler than that.

Being honest about negative things takes a lot of caution and skill.


Here are 9 key tips on how to be honest with someone:

  • Look at the situation from their perspective before you do anything.
  • Ask yourself if this is something that really needs to be said. Are you telling them anything they don’t know or haven’t acknowledged?
  • Choose your words carefully – say it to yourself before you say it out-loud. How does it sound?
  • Don’t insult, blame, exaggerate, or be judgmental. Use a calm and respectful tone while describing the problem.
  • Do it in private. You don’t want the person to feel like they are being pressured by a bunch of people all at once.
  • Always offer a solution. Don’t just state a problem if you don’t have some good advice to go with it.
  • Admit you could be wrong. This is just your opinion, the person doesn’t have to agree with you.
  • Let it go if you notice the person is responding negatively toward it. Don’t persist if they aren’t interested in talking about it.
  • Go back to being a good friend again. Don’t make it awkward.


You’ve probably experienced some of your own times when you’ve been the product of negative criticism. Maybe the person had a good point, but it was lost on you because of the way they delivered it. Try your best not to create that experience for someone else.


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