Truth or Care: Thanks But No Thanks for Sharing

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Look, I consider you one of my absolutely closest friends. Maybe you can help me with this. I need your honest but polite opinion. Pull no punches, but please be gentle. I need your advice about taking advice.

See, I want two things from my friends. I want enthusiastic support and I want honest feedback. I want a slap on the back and a second opinion about my choices.

I need a second opinion. See, I'm busy living my life, which means I'm too consumed by it to guide it perfectly at the same time. I try to get outside myself regularly to take a look around, to see if I'm overlooking anything. But I never get far and I come back quickly. There's just so much to do being me.

Though the buck stops with me, I'm not really the greatest authority on whether I'm on the right track. Not that anyone else is. Still, I'm so obviously biased, so invested in my plans, so full of myself, I wouldn't want to be the sole judge of my choices. I need to hear other people's truth about me, even if I don't agree with it.

But having so many things to do, I also just want to be supported. That's why when I'm having lunch with a friend and they ask how I'm doing, I hope they'll be impressed and congratulatory. When they support me, I get up from the table and head back to work with an extra gust of wind in my sails. I like it so much I don't mind if they just accommodate me sometimes, not sharing their full opinion about what I'm doing. It's their way of showing they care.

Truth and care, that's all I want. With my friends these go hand in hand. They're very supportive. They genuinely think I'm on track. If they don't, out of kindness they try to come up with constructive ways to give me feedback, which sometimes means limiting the feedback.

I love them for it. I mean it. If they weren't so naturally supportive of me, I wouldn't probably keep them as friends. You wouldn't want to be around someone who disapproves of what you're doing.

No, I tell them I just want their honest opinion, that they can say anything to me. And since I've picked my friends carefully, they honestly support me—and if not, at least they won't dare tell me they don't. And I'm supportive right back by not trying to read between the lines, forcing them to reveal their opinions.

But I can't stand being humored, either. When friends have something to say, they should just say it. If they beat around the bush it only makes it worse. It's so patronizing. I mean, I'm not made of fine china. I can take it. I've called more than a few friends to task for holding back.

But it's definitely not OK when they say things that are just plain discouraging. They should know better. There's no reason to be discouraging. Sometimes a friend (soon to be ex-friend) gives me criticism that makes me feel bad. I figure they're doing it on purpose , because why else be discouraging? They're just jealous or mean-spirited. I don't listen. There's always a way to give constructive criticism. People who can't find a way to give constructive criticism just aren't trying.

I'm good at telling people what I want. I'll say, “Look, what do I know anyway? I want to know what you think about my plans.”

I'm usually careful enough. I try to read them in advance, read their facial expressions so I can anticipate whether they're with me or against me. Sometimes I miss and have to listen to their criticism and then take time to explain why they're wrong about me and that really, I've got it covered.

Mostly it works out, though. I get to ask for their honest feedback and still I get that little gust of wind I count on. The gust is that much stronger because I know it's their honest opinion.

Once a friend, Bill, asked me if I wanted a little feedback. Of course I said, “sure.” He told me that I was hard to read, that I'd act like I wanted honest feedback but then I'd snap at him when he gave it to me. He told me that made him feel wary of me.

Some people just aren't good at reading the signs. Like I said, I'm really clear. But some folks just don't get it.

Now if I was still on speaking terms with my former friend Bill, I'd tell him that I can relate. I mean I'm clear-spoken, but some people....

There was this girl in high school. She and I were friends. She was in drama club and invited me to see her in the final performance of their play. At the cast party, which she invited me to, she asked me what I thought of the play. I gave her some pointers. You know, an outsider's perspective. I wasn't going to lie. The play was just OK but if she had worked harder on her accent the whole thing would have been much more believable.

She asked, so I told her.

She didn't talk to me for the rest of the party. Can you believe it? I mean, she invited me and then treated me like a total stranger. If you ask for feedback you should just listen and thank the person who gives it. It's a gift. We all need it and there's no harm in it. Everyone needs an outsider's perspective.

But anyway I need your advice because another friend just told me she gets mixed messages from me. My first response is to never speak to her again. But I thought I should get a second opinion first.... Now, you're a really good friend. You're always so supportive. So tell me. I'm all ears.

 

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