Brutally Honest is a Contradiction in Terms


Bob Burg posted the following on Facebook today. “Those who take pride in being “brutally honest” are typically more interested in being brutal than they are in being honest. “

It resonated with me as it has many others, so I cruised on over to his blog and found the article Self Editing is a Beautiful Thing. (Please check it out.)

Reading it instantly reminded me of the folks with whom I have crossed paths in my life who share this pride in their brutality.  (Like I wanted to be reminded of them. Thanks Bob) ‘

Anyway,all joking aside as I was thinking about these “special” people in my life it dawned on me that brutal honesty was a contradiction in terms.

A quick check on “The Google” and I found these definitions.

  • Brutal – Savage; cruel; inhumane, crude; coarse Synonyms – ferocious, brutish,  barbarous cruel
  • Honest – Upright and fair. Sincere, Freedom from  deceit or fraud. Synonyms – integrity, probity, rectitude

As you can see, you can be honest and you can be brutal, but you cannot be both at the same time.  A person who takes “pride in their bluntness is either proving that they are immature or proving that they are too lazy to learn to communicate with some tact and diplomacy.

As my friend and mentor, John Maxwell says. “Sometime wisdom comes with age. Sometimes the age comes alone.”

 I would love to hear your comment on this week’s post.

 Phil is one of only one thousand leaders worldwide (representing nearly 100 countries) to be trained and certified by John C. Maxwell & his team, as part of the founder’s circle of coaches, speakers and teachers.


Filed under Leadership

6 responses to “Brutally Honest is a Contradiction in Terms

  1. Phil thank you so much for your kind mention of my post. Very appreciated. And, I very much enjoyed your article!

  2. Anonymous

    Awesome insight. I never thought about it like that. Thanks for sharing this thought.

  3. Sorry, I don’t agree. You got a separate definition for “brutal” and “honest.” The combination of those two words into the phrase “Brutally honest” changes the definition in the same way that two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen don’t make a simple atom group, but rather they make water. The term “brutally honest” has come to mean being straightforward and plainly open — rather than softening the words and confusing the meaning. Some of my best bosses were “brutally honest” and I learned a great deal from them. It is always easier and less painful to come out and be plainly (brutally) honest than to couch your meaning in soft words. Couching your words allows you to feel honest without upsetting the person to whom you believe you’re being honest while they likely arrive at a different understanding while feeling that they got your honest meaning. “Brutally honest” is a term of art — not an algebraic sum of two definitions.

    • Thanks Gary.I value your opinion. I think the art is in being honest with out being brutal. The combination of the terms is used all too often as an excuse for not developing the skills to tell it like it is for the benifit of all concerned. Easier and less painful are not always the best path.

      My best bosses have had that skill.

      If we can weed out those who have the win-win as their goal from those who only want to win, we are all making progess. Best of luck to you.

    • I’m going to have to disagree with your assessment of this blog / article.

      You mention being plainly (brutally) honest. Plain is not synonymous with brutal. Speaking plainly, without confusion, is fine. However using the term brutal, along with honest, as it refers to communications, denotes a harshness regarding the communication that is occuring.

      We all desire to be spoken to plainly and honestly and clearly and concisely. Brutal, and any form of that word, has not place next to the word honest, if one is sincerely attempting to communicate with others with respect and dignity.

  4. Thank you Phil, again, for blogging about things some of us think but are afraid to say out loud! Kudos! There way a time when people treated others with dignity and respect. However, and perhaps with such an advance in modern media, reality shows, and in-your-face radio shows, we seem to be losing some of our humanity. In my library of leadership books, I find the “Crucial Conversations” and “Crucial Confrontation” books essential is learning how to communicate to others, even outside of business.

    Thank you so much!

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