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Say What You Mean

A friend and co-worker of mine at a former job once told me: “say what you mean.”

It was in response to my complaining that I had to talk to someone and I didn’t know what I was supposed to say. I didn’t know this person well and we needed to talk about something that was in depth and I felt like I couldn’t get there without a better knowledge of them. This was probably correct, but that’s when my friend suggested the “easy” solution.

“Say what you mean. Say what you’re actually thinking.”

My immediate thought was “I can’t do that, then this person would know what I’m thinking.”

But to my friend that was the whole point. When communicating with someone, he thought that being direct and honest was the easiest thing to do. The way that I saw it, it was the hardest thing to do.

It wasn’t that I had anything particularly difficult to tell this person, but I immediately felt resistance to being honest with them about what I was actually thinking and feeling, which was that if we were going to work together we would need to spend a little more time together before I could figure out how best to help them.

I think I eventually did tell this person what was on my mind, albeit a little awkwardly, because to me the idea of honest, direct communication with people was something I really didn’t have much practice with at that point (I’m still practicing).

As I’ve thought about my friend’s advice in the years since, I realize that in a lot of ways it is much easier to be direct with people and simply “say what you mean.”

When you say what you mean, you don’t have to put on an act for anybody because the words are actually yours. The communication becomes more about problem solving and mutual benefit, rather than trying to sound like you know what you’re talking about (especially when you don’t).

Saying what you mean might be uncomfortable for a few minutes, maybe even a little more than that, but saying something you don’t really mean leaves you uncomfortable for a lot longer because, ultimately, you’re in hiding. You’re in hiding from other people and you’re in hiding from yourself.

I realize that if you always say what you mean, some people aren’t going to like it. But wouldn’t you rather be disliked for who you really are, than for someone you are pretending to be?

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