Speaking Your Mind Without Being Hurtful

Friends Talking

“If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind.” ~Buddha

Many of us allow other people’s opinions to dictate what we believe, value, or perceive. It’s not always easy to stand up for our beliefs and opinions when others, particularly those we care about, constantly bombard us with their views.

You might be thinking, “No, not me! This never happens to me. I’m strong in voicing my beliefs.”

At one point or another, we all conform our opinions, either to avoid confrontation or judgment or because we’re losing faith in what we feel is right.

Ask yourself, “Do I often justify what I believe after engaging in conversations with others? Am I continuously second guessing myself?” If so, you may be losing yourself.

I used to be someone who always avoided conflict with others at all costs. Needless to say, I was passive by nature, and I shied away from standing up for my beliefs.

I would avoid and distance myself from any means of voicing my opinions. In turn, I became submissive and engaged in both romantic and platonic relationships with people who were more dominating in demeanor.

While I lacked the willpower to express my own ideas, I found myself in a state of annoyance and frustration from allowing others to indirectly control my life. Feeling helpless and unaware of who I really was took a toll on my mental well-being.

I longed for the ability to express my thoughts and opinions freely. I craved the feeling of acceptance by others, without judgments being passed.

I deeply admired and looked up to my sister as a role model, one who possessed the internal strength to be truthful to herself and others, regardless of the consequences.

Sometimes my sister would discuss her issues with her friends and seek my advice, perhaps to validate if she was doing the right thing. Sometimes she wasn’t sure if she was coming on too strong and pushing others away because of her honest and strong-minded nature.

She'd often find herself in situations where she would lose friends. Perhaps her honest opinions were too much to handle.

When she would come to me in full-blown tears, asking me, “Why do my friends keep leaving? Why don’t they understand that I am just trying to help them?” I would respond to her by saying, “They don’t want to hear the truth from you, because sometimes the truth hurts.”

Friends who resent one’s openness and honesty are usually, in turn, not worthy of the friendship.

Looking back at the way I used to be led me to a conclusion. It’s not what you say to others; it’s the manner in which you say it that truly matters.

I finally realized that, although my sister and I had opposing approaches of maintaining our relationships, neither of us was necessarily wrong in the way we went about constructing them.

We often want to give genuine advice or opinions. However, we also need to understand that it’s not always easy to accept the truth. We need to find the balance and set limitations in order to maintain positive relationships.

While I had no problem in maintaining mine, I often felt repressed in terms of being expressive. In contrast, my sister’s strong-minded character eventually caused her relationships to slowly dissipate.

Over the years, I have learned that using appropriate language, word choices, and tone is the key to flourishing relationships.

Speaking constructively and delivering tactful criticism eliminates the chance to pass biases. This also creates a healthy environment and opportunity to grow.

As I've matured, I've recognized that my opinions actually matter and have the right to be heard. Having said this, I have learned that it is more effective to give an opinion or advice when it is sought.

When I engage in conversations, I always try my best to think before I speak. Then, I contemplate, “Is it worth saying? How will what I say make a difference to this person?”

If I proceed to give my opinion, I then decide, “How can I say this in such as way that it comes across as genuine, yet constructive?”

By nature, we all have the tendency to overreact; it’s important to choose our battles wisely and release the negative energy that surrounds us.

Be real; tell the truth using kind and heartfelt words. Respect will follow.

Even though telling the truth may be difficult for many people, it’s the approach that we take that allows us to earn the respect of others.

Often enough, people are so preoccupied with verbally offending others that we end up feeling as though we need to “walk on egg shells.” We may also end up saying something we didn’t originally intend.

When I was one of those people who worried about what others thought, I allowed my life to be dictated and controlled by someone else’s agenda.

I always felt obligated to adopt the views of my partners and friends, in fear of disappointing and upsetting them. I struggled to find the courage and willpower to rid myself of this imprisonment, in search of a voice, love, and passion.

Through some of my ongoing romantic relationships with over-bearing, possessive men, I have come to terms with the fact that telling the truth will not always yield a positive or expected outcome.

Still, I think that it is most important to be true to yourself. You need to be happy first before you can make others happy, and that means not self-sacrificing for unappreciative, non-reciprocating individuals.

Speaking up for what we believe and sharing our opinions can be helpful and beneficial—when it’s appropriate, kind, constructive, and consistent.

Photo by Seniju

About Linda Carvalho

Linda Carvalho is a teacher and her deep passion extends to all the students she’s worked with. She believes a child’s growing progress is the most rewarding and self-fulfilling prophecy. She enjoys traveling the world and has a strong passion for writing. Her next goal is to finish a book she’s currently working on and contribute more blogs to Tiny Buddha.

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  • M Sonnier

    Hi Linda!

    I love this post. I definitely need to get better at speaking my mind. I’m very passive and submissive and will do almost anything to avoid conflict or confrontation. This quality has been damaging to both my relationships and my self-esteem at times. I think people would take me more seriously if I spoke up more.

    And I love the quote at the beginning of your post. I think that’s a wonderful rule to live by, and it perfectly sums up everything you wrote here. 🙂

  • littleladydesigns

    This brings up a lot of truths and memories for me. Ah, why couldn’t have this post come a couple years ago, when the issues between my then friend and I, had a lot to do with what is being described!

    You should be able to speak your mind. When you feel like you’re walking on eggshells around a person all the time, this is damaging. And when you speak your mind, yes it should be kind as you can manage, but some things no matter how kind you put it, are ugly and will sound ugly. There’s no way around it (i.e. when someone cheats etc) And again, some people cannot take the truth and/or will feel attacked, no matter the tone. It was a harsh truth I learned.

  • Liberty

    Years ago, when my son was only 6 years old, our family went through a divorce. There were times when my young son felt such frustration and anxiety resulting from not feeling safe to share his feelings with his Dad. I gently kept encouraging him to speak his mind – carefully adding that by doing so, it would not ensure a specific result. Many, many months later he called me (I lived in a different city), sounding so very excited. He said, “Mom! I found my voice!”.. Such a precious memory.

  • Thanks for the reminder that people who resent your openness and honesty don’t make the best friends over the long haul.

    I have learned to ask myself if what I am about to say is loving, compassionate and really necessary. Anytime my words are less than loving I’ve found that I am listening to my limiting beliefs rather than my heart.

    Thanks for the wonderful reminders. Speaking the truth or asking for what we want can always be done in a loving manner but how and what people hear is beyond our control. Letting go and surrendering to love is a wonderful spiritual practice.

  • Joan Harrison

    Linda, I was a ‘people pleaser’ most of my life until I read ‘Co-dependent No More’ by Melody Beattie, it changed my perspective and set me free from thinking that others would like me if I pleased them.

    Nowadays, if I want to get a message across when someone has upset me I tend to tell a story using metaphors, the other person usually picks up the meaning as their subconscious cannot help questioning “does she mean me?” Causes less pain on both sides! Nice post, made me think!

  • ERipley

    I hate to say it but it is a two way street. If your friends are open, honest and speaking from the heart you have to be able to listen to their open, honest speaking as much as the other way around. Most people do not like this; it is their way or the highway, so to speak. Often times what I have discovered is that individuals believe being open and honest equates to a constant offer of criticism and opinion of what another person is doing wrong in their life. Again, this sort of talk is very much unwanted as we all simply want to be heard and accepted, no matter what. Being honest and open is good but if you want to know why people keep leaving it may be they tire of all the too much open and honest criticism. Also, most people do not listen and they do not listen well, current studies are out on this information and one enormous sign you are not listening, and certainly not listening well, is if you are debating how you are going to respond while the other person is speaking. In my case, I have found it best to just listen, be open and honest when asked for an opinion and when speaking I am open and honest. But don’t take to heart if friendships end, certainly do not criticize them for not accepting your honesty and opinion, anymore than you won’t theirs … if you are meant to be friends the friendship will come back around.

  • kia

    this is called ancient pyschology, positive assertiveness 101

  • Elizabeth

    Could you give some examples of ways to achieve this goal? I am going through a process of trying to find my voice, but it’s tough to know when to bring up subjects and how.

  • For some reason this really clicked with me. In the past we got wrapped up in ‘saying brutally honest things in a brutally honest way’ and noticed that it didn’t exactly fly in polite society. Friends and Family were turned off by it. So we began to ‘lie’.. we began changing the content of what we said, to make those around us happy. Actually, that doesn’t work either.

    The point is to maintain 100% integrity with the content of what you say, but find a kind way to say it. Be careful that you do not meander into euphemism, or spin. The point is to be as kind as possible with both good and bad news, and dishonesty only hurts you and others in the end. Dishonesty hurts others because it paints for them a false view of the world, and how can they possibly make the right decisions in a world with unreliable/false conditions?

  • KuMiCu

    I have an Italian mother who has no problem criticizing, judging & nagging others. But god forbid I speak my mind (usually saying “no” to her) then it’s World War 3. I have tried using kind words to explain but she proceeds to throw temper tantrums and silent treatments. She is the classic “dishes it but can’t take it” mother. The sad thing? I hate being around her. And yet she refuses to really listen to any of her grown children. I wish you could write an article that teaches parents to listen to their kids and not resort to guilt and blackmail tactics. I would forward that to her. But it would go right over her head.

  • KMc

    Speaking the truth isn’t always about offering our opinions to others about them. More often for me it’s about stating my truths about where I stand and about my needs. Just this week I was vulnerable and stated where I stand clearly and without rancor – the end result was rejection by a couple of people. It hurt deeply, but I feel good about taking care of myself and having integrity.

  • KuMiCu

    This is exactly how it is with my mother. I’m always walking on eggshells around her.

  • Carey

    The Co-dependent books are very helpful! A therapist recommended them to me and at first I didn’t know why, since no one in my family was suffering from addiction, but it had a lot of relevant insights about taking care of ourselves as a way to encourage others to do the same.

  • Ivanna fukalot

    OMG Be quiet!

  • Guest

    This is a fantastic article. When I was younger, I tried not to share my opinion as often and conform to whatever my childhood friends said. Hence, I attracted many outspoken and strong-minded friends later in life and I became a bit more outspoken as well. Voicing my opinion and standing for what I believe in has become important to me. As I’m getting older, I’m experiencing this conflict where many of my childhood friends can’t handle the truth or my opinion. I can’t help but think that I lack individualism when I engage in conversations with them. I have to be careful as to not offend them. I expect my friends to listen and respect my opinion just as much as I have listened and respected theirs. Am I expecting too much from them? I don’t think so. Am I asking my friends to conform to what I say? Absolutely not. In fact, I enjoy listening to friends with different opinions as it widens my perspective of life. There is no doubt that with friends who are extremely outspoken can overdo it. Everything works the best in moderation and you’re absolutely right about the fact that the method of delivery is so crucial when sharing your opinion. I’m still learning but I’m starting to feel more comfortable in my own skin to be able to voice my opinion when I can.

  • pikapikh

    Hey Linda, this is an article that hit me so hard. I found this a teeny bit later, when I’m experiencing something that I need suggestions from different views. I eventually googled about “How to tell friends hurtful truth” and stumbled upon this article. From the opening quote, til the ending, I felt like crying. I agreed upon this and always thought “oh my God, it’s so true! I really felt that before. How did she know how I felt so much?”.

    I am actually thinking so much about telling my best friend about her habits that annoy me. I am in dilemma because I’m scared that she will think I’m too honest and yeah, honesty hurts. I’m afraid that our friendship will end just because she could not handle my honesty. This makes me realise, oh God, who is she? I feel like I don’t know her anymore because I’m guessing her reactions. She might be like this or that. Not sure. So vague.

    And after reading your article, Linda, I thought about just telling her the truth. I have to voice out my opinion. But yes, I have to deliver it in a kind way, in the least hurtful way. I have to be happy first before I can make others happy. Thank you so much, Linda.

  • Cathryn

    Thank you so much for writing this. I was drawn to this article because I identify very much with your sister. I often feel like a problem solver, seeing alternate solutions and ideas and tend to want to help (I’m in a helping profession too), however, I have found that so often what I say, no matter how much I attend to tone or timing, is often taken as critical. As a result, I have found myself isolated from co-workers, friends and family, sometimes without the courtesy of discussion or with the understanding of intent being broached. I am making strong efforts to find ways to increase positive feedback and kindness into my repertoire to help solicit changes, but also feel somehow that I’m being dishonest with myself and others or somehow stopping change…however, trying to realize that change won’t happen if the other is not wanting/receptive or just sides with resistance…it actually bolsters opposition and reduces the chance of change. I want to be more of a strategist, but am finding it sooo hard to make these changes. Has your sister found any tools to help support her?

  • Kim

    Love this . What if you have done all of this multiple times in a positive manner as you have described to a long time friend ? I have repeatedly gotten burned by her. She a
    always goes back to her old ways that are hurtful to me. I have spoken to her multiple times about the issue and she even knew and apologized for her behavior. Yet after this last time I have cut off all contact . Over it! Yet several months have gone by , zero contact and she chose to defriend me on social media as I didn’t do w her. Now this week randomly I get a text “idk what went wrong but love and miss you.” When I saw this I had multiple thoughts about her comment. I have yet to reply as I am in limbo if she even deserves a response after her repeated selfish behavior to me .

  • Matthew Wright

    Informative piece , Incidentally , if your company is wanting a a form , my boss came across a blank version here

  • Beth Trangore

    My colleagues were looking for LA Form 1400 yesterday and found a company that has a lot of fillable forms . If people require LA Form 1400 too , here’s

  • Helen appraoui

    My sister and I used to be close but now since she has a new husband, she is distant, harsh and rude to me. I am confused as to why. Her husband is nice so it is not his fault. She needs to own her bad behavior and try too find out the underlying issues that really bother her and not take it out on me,

  • CP

    I know a person who is highly opinionated, shall we say. A young, 20 year old who, for her age, is pretty knowledgeable about what goes on in today’s society and her opinions about topics can be very thought provoking and passionate at best. Then there’s the emotional side of her opinions that can be very brash and critical, especially towards others, where it is not warranted. I don’t think she realizes the message it delivers. I don’t think she intentionally does it to insult others either, however, when I approached her about her delivery of certain topics, I was met with a defensive, close-minded girl, who could not accept that someone challenged her opinion. She has so much to learn. I don’t think anyone has ever challenged her, and if they have, she does not hold the level of maturity yet to effectively be able to turn it into a healthy debate. If she carries on like this, she will end up with fewer friends than she imagined. I wish she would be more cognizant of the delivery of her message. Not for my sake necessarily, but because it stops being an ‘opinion’ and starts becoming a downright insult.

  • Rachel67

    Hi, Kumicu, I think your mother is suffering from a type of low self esteem. I have a sibling who is the same way. Classic “dishes it out, but can’t take it.” She justifies this because “that’s the way she is” she “speaks her mind.” And boy does she, often with word choices that would be very hurtful (and yes would cause World War III) if you were to use them at her. I have given up standing up for myself, because I don’t need a constant WW III. And anyway you won’t get an apology you will get a long diatribe of her justifying herself. She will not hear your truth, because WW III is already brewing in her mind. Then she will be mad at YOU, it always gets twisted around. So I just let it all go… She suffers from low self esteem and that is classic too of the people that cannot handle any suggestion of criticism. They both need therapy.