Emotional honesty: A path to effective communication, more ease, and getting your needs metFeatured

Have you ever been super bothered by someone at work?

In my 14+ years of work experience, I’ve definitely found a handful of coworkers completely unbearable. Sometimes with certain people, things started out pretty okay, until one day, they said or did that thing. Other times, so-and-so on my team wasn’t pulling their weight, which meant more work for me while they enjoyed vacations and summer Fridays.

Just the same, in those moments of sometimes debilitating frustration, I decided not to speak up. At least not to them. I vented about them to coworkers, friends – sometimes anyone who would listen. I even dropped passive-aggressive hints in the direction of my offenders with the hopes of getting my message across.

But when it came to sitting down face to face with the person I was bothered by, I felt powerless. Why? At the time, I may have convinced myself that it wouldn’t make a difference. There were also more honest moments when I admitted that I was just too afraid of the discomfort I’d feel. Looking back, two things are clear:

  • I didn’t know how to have emotionally honest conversations anywhere in my life, let alone in the workplace.
  • The pain caused by my emotional dishonesty eventually outweighed my fear of being emotionally honest.

In this post, I’m going to provide a helpful framework for having emotionally honest conversations. I’ll also talk about how emotional honesty is one of the most powerful pathways to open and effective communication, freedom from resentment, and getting your needs met. First, let’s start with a couple of clarifying definitions.

What do I mean when I say emotional honesty? In this post, when I refer to emotional honesty, I’m talking about the act of communicating our feelings and hearing another’s feelings without judging, defending, fixing, or criticizing. Emotional honesty is crucial to our vitality.

What am I referring to when I say emotional dishonesty? Emotional dishonesty can be tricky because it doesn’t always involve telling a flat-out lie. It’s lying by omission. It’s withholding feelings like anger, fear, and pain, and it’s keeping our needs, desires, and boundaries silent.

In order to understand how and why emotional honesty is such a positive and transformative tool, we have to take a look at the impact of emotional dishonesty on our lives. Here are some of the side effects of emotional dishonesty:

  • Feeling inauthentic
  • Low self-esteem and self-acceptance
  • Constant uneasiness
  • Difficulty developing intimate and meaningful relationships with others
  • Lack of trust in relationships
  • Feelings of loneliness and disconnection
  • Ongoing feelings of dissatisfaction
  • Feeling anxious and fearful
  • Unmet needs

Looking at these side effects, emotional honesty seems like an obvious alternative. After all, most of us wouldn’t consciously choose the list above. In my own experience, it took time for me to realize that my fear of having a vulnerable conversation with another person was not only leading me to feelings of resentment, but also to everything listed above.

So, how do we do it? How do have an emotionally honest conversation?

Over the years, I’ve worked with amazing coaches and therapists. I’ve also participated in tons of workshops and programs dedicated to personal development. These amazing resources have all presented frameworks varying to some degree but often with similarities when it comes to developing open and effective communication. One of my favorite approaches is Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication framework. I like it because it’s consumable and easy to implement.

Here it is:

I have used this framework again and again in professional and personal relationships (and let’s face it, all relationships are personal anyway), and it’s had a profoundly positive impact. The first time I used it was with a manager who delivered critical feedback in a way that didn’t work for me. She was an amazing leader, but I found myself feeling criticized rather than empowered after our weekly syncs. Here’s what my communication looked like using this framework:

Was I uncomfortable? Yes. My heart was beating out of my chest. But the alternative was to say nothing and deal with the side effects of emotional dishonesty. My manager responded with kindness and understanding and became one of my mentors for years following.

Emotional honesty takes practice. So, if you’re new to it, try not to set unrealistic expectations for yourself on your first try. Like anything new, it will likely take some time and effort before you feel comfortable using this approach, but the juice is totally worth the squeeze.

This may sound really obvious, but one of the things that became clear to me after practicing this over and over was that people couldn’t read my mind. Most of my resentments came from this place of expecting others to know how I was feeling. I didn’t realize that I actually had to honestly share my feelings in order for people to know what they were. It hadn’t occurred to me that if I didn’t ask for what I needed, others wouldn’t know what to provide or how to take action.

Some outcomes, like the example I shared above, will be more positive than others. If you’re communicating with someone who also wants more open and effective communication, this will feel easier than if you’re talking with someone who’s totally shut down and resistant. But, I have found that emotional honesty, regardless of the response, is a necessary component of my peace of mind. More often than not, it has enabled a deeper connection with myself and others, provided ease where there was once anxiety or resentment, and has been a path to getting my needs met with integrity.