Help Me Harlan: Truth-teller struggles with being an insult-slinger

By Harland Cohen


Dear Harlan,


I’m conflicted about being politically correct. A lot of people misunderstand my blunt attitude as insulting. This shows up in my relationships as well. I don’t mean to be hurtful, but I have strong opinions. Should I listen to what people say and change my approach? The negative feedback from others has become a trend, but I like that I’m honest and blunt. I don’t want to lose an essential part of who I am. If I change, would I be losing myself?


— Blunt


Dear Blunt,


Your last name doesn’t rhyme with “plump,” right? Great question. I know how hard it can be to tiptoe around the truth. I’m a big fan of being blunt. I’ve experimented with being even more in-your-face blunt. However, I’ve recently made a conscious decision to pull back and change how I deliver the brutal truth in certain situations. Sometimes I’m too honest, too fast. When you’re too honest, too fast, people don’t always know your intentions. It leaves a lot of room for misunderstandings. You lose people. If you don’t have a relationship with someone before sharing the truth with that person, you can appear mean or insulting. If you have a foundation of trust and understanding, the blunt truth can come off as supportive and considerate. Unsolicited feedback with someone you barely know makes you look like a cold-hearted, hollow soul. So, the answer isn’t to change your blunt attitude — it’s to change where and when you share it. If you feel compelled to blurt out the truth before knowing someone, stop. If you feel compelled to offer unsolicited feedback, filter it. Wait or ask for permission. Say, “Can I share the truth with you? I don’t know you well enough to just blurt it out, but I wanted to know if you are open to feedback.” Some people will say “yes,” and some people will say “no.” Simply asking someone permission before sharing the honest truth can turn you from insensitive to helpful.




Dear Harlan,


How do you address people who discredit or don’t believe in your relationships? My friends are always questioning my relationships. I find it annoying and it makes me want to not have them in my life. Any advice?


— Dating


Dear Dating,


Find healthier relationships. Seriously, they might be telling you the truth you don’t want to hear. Give them credit for caring enough to discredit your relationships. Your friends know you the best, right? They care about you, right? Something is giving your friends a reason to discredit or question your relationships. That’s a fact. You don’t want to hear the inconvenient truth, but it’s how they feel. You can either avoid the truth and find new friends, or try to understand the truth from the people who love you the most. I would try to understand them. When you listen, instead of getting aggressive, making excuses or lashing out at them, ask them why they are sharing this with you. Tell them while it hurts to hear what they’re saying, you want to understand why they’re saying it. If three friends tell you the same three truths, it’s hard to deny it. Perhaps you get in a pattern and are so deeply involved you don’t see it. Be willing to listen. Be willing to make some changes. And be grateful that you have friends who care enough to share the truth. It’s better to talk to your face than behind your back.


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Harlan is author of “Getting Naked: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed and Totally Sober)” (St. Martin’s Press). Write Harlan at harlan(at) or visit online: All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan!, 3501 N. Southport Ave., Suite 226, Chicago, IL 60657.




© Harlan Cohen 2016

Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.