Have you ever had a conversation with a friend or stranger and ended up offending them with your honesty? It sucks, right? Too often I have people asking me how to handle situations like these. Should they pander to the other person’s opinion? Should they start being honest all together?
If you want to communicate more effectively, then the right answer is none of the above!
There is a middle ground between these two extremes that you can learn to distinguish. And once you’re able to occupy this space during your conversations, you’ll find that they’ll go a lot more smoothly.
If you want to finally learn how to talk to people without rubbing them the wrong way, keep reading.
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Can you communicate effectively while being honest?
I know this news may shock you, but I haven’t always been the easiest guy to get along with *cue gasp from audience*. Like many people, I too used to be the guy who was too honest with people. I thought my honest and blunt communication style was harmless, even helpful at times.
But people REALLY didn’t like it.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Someone would tell me how they just got their 5th overdraft fee from their bank, and look to me to make a statement of empathy, only to be shocked by hearing me say, “well, maybe you should take more responsibility for your financial life”.
Can you believe I was surprised that people were offended by that?
Here’s why my words weren’t received well–because I was being an asshole. Only people who have zero social acuity think you either have to be 100% honest or lie in a conversation.
That’s what the psychology field calls an extreme reach barrier–the assumption that if you want to do something, you have to go to the COMPLETE EXTREME to do it at all.
Not offending people during conversation isn’t as simple as lying or being honest. But rather, you need to approach the situation with a little more finesse.
I’ll show you exactly what you should do in conversation to avoid the label of being a jerk. But first, let’s get into what you shouldn’t do.
The one thing that hurts communications
When people come to us for advice or simply talk to us about their problems, what many of us default to is provide them with information.
Yea, don’t do that.
I know it’s counterintuitive, but here’s the thing–people don’t need more information. They’re well aware of their problem. If someone is 50lbs overweight I promise you they are already aware that they have an issue with diet and exercise. The last thing they need is for you to start informing them on what they should change in their life.
The key to doing this is to be more sensitive.
I know what you’re thinking, “Ramit, out of all people how are YOU telling me to be more sensitive?”
Listen, this is my blog so I can call myself sensitive if I want to. The point is, you need to have a bit more empathy if you want people to like you. If you’re unwilling to do that, then you should just make peace with the fact that people won’t like you too much.
Trying to tell people where they messed up comes across as insensitive and it leaves them with the feeling that you don’t have any appreciation for their situation. Once you internalize the need for sensitivity, you can move on to what you should actually do to improve your communication.
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The best thing to do to communicate more effectively
So, you know you need to be more sensitive in order to communicate with people in a way that leads you to being well liked. Knowing that is one thing, but doing it is a whole different beast.
So what does being more sensitive look like and how can you start practicing?
Here’s one simple strategy you can use to start changing your behavior in conversation.
Pick one person in your friend group who is universally liked. This person will serve to be your communications mentor. I want you to watch carefully how they respond to questions. If someone comes up to them complaining about their relationship or their weight, listen closely.
What questions do they ask? Do they try to give advice, or do they make statements of empathy? Are they doing most of the talking, or mainly listening?
I’m sure you’ll find that their response differs greatly from how you would respond in that situation.
After you’ve studied them, try to modulate yourself. The next time someone baits you with something like “Oh, I really need to go to the gym”, don’t just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind (trust me, I can appreciate how hard this is).
Take a second and think about how your friend would respond. And then give that response. Over time, you’ll end up changing your internal psychology as well.
Finally end the bad habit of being a jerk
As you learned from above being honest is not the most important thing in a conversation. What most people want is to talk to someone who is non-judgemental and be their friend.
If you follow the procedure above, you’ll change the bad habit of blurting out the “honest” albeit insensitive thing that comes into your mind into more statements of empathy. This will lead to you being well liked by your network.
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