Communicating in kindness


By Doug Jeschke

A group of our friends were talking recently about how to make communication with others respectful and meaningful. That is, how do we speak to one another in a way that is more than just pleasantries, but to actually talk about issues that might help our relationships progress?

It’s so easy to fall into a pattern of simply saying whatever comes to mind – and if they take it the wrong way, that’s their problem. Of course, the opposite strategy can occur as well – don’t say much of anything and no one will get offended.

So in our conversation with our friends, one couple shared their approach to deciding when to share and when to be quiet. Their analysis consists of three questions: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Most people limit their comments to things that are truthful. This is pretty straightforward. Whether it is necessary to say what is on your mind is a bit more complicated.  It gets into questions of whether the benefit to be gained by airing out the issue outweighs the disruption that saying it might cause.

But what I thought was the most interest concept of this approach is the question of when does saying something, possibly hard to hear, qualify as kind? Does being a kind and loving person mean you should never say a word critical of another? I don’t think so.

Certainly your approach can be kind and considerate when you are telling somebody you don’t care for something they did, or the way he or she approached an issue. Kindness also takes into consideration the history of the relationship – if I have a proven track record of being a true friend, I have a better chance of having what I need to say heard in a spirit of caring.

But even beyond the atmosphere of how or when a critical but true and necessary comment is to be said, kindness to others flat out requires us to say the hard truths. Even if those truths are going to cause upset. If my wife is doing something that causes me grief, it would be unkind to keep it to myself – it makes our relationship suffer. If my friend is making poor choices, the kind thing is to address my concerns – even if doing so threatens to make our relationship rocky in the short term.

I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Maggie Kuhn. She says, “Speak your mind. Even if your voice shakes.”