The invitation to “Tell me what you really think” is intended with an emphasis on “really.” The question often is couched in innuendo and the person being asked should brace himself for inclusion in a strong or attempted disguise of the questioner’s emotion.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. There are times when someone you know very well and have a close relationship with will want your honest opinion because they consider you a trusted friend and source. But you will recognize these occasions for what they are. Anyone else extending an open invitation for your thoughts should put you on alert.
Some people extend the invitation blindly. Some only think they want to know your honest and unfiltered thoughts. Still others invite your opinion with an ulterior motive in mind. It’s difficult to tell the difference sometimes, which is why many of us fall into the “Tell me what you really think” trap.
When asked for honesty, we are likely to trust the request for what it is. We may even be flattered by it. But when we answer straightforwardly and sincerely, we find out that our answer is viewed as a criticism.
Your coworker may ask you, “What do you really think about what George said to me in the note I forwarded to you?”
Your honest response could be, “Well, Marie, I understand why George might have a different view. I’ve noticed that you can get a little testy regarding certain subjects.”
You were asked for an unfiltered view of the situation, but your honest answer potentially created a combustible moment. You now have to talk your way out of the trap, or let Marie think you’re siding with George.
Had you been able to recognize Marie’s request for what it was, you could still have been honest while being diplomatic. After all, she didn’t really want your opinion. She was seeking agreement and emotional support.
Before yielding to temptation and, for example, asking a coworker, “What do you really think about the meeting we just had?” consider that you are about to draw that person into a situation that could be tricky for them to get out of.
Any number of scenarios might have provoked you to want to include another person who will be sympathetic. But etiquette calls on us to consider how our actions affect others. Is it worth feeding your ego to put another person in an uncomfortable situation that could have lasting effects on your relationship with them?
If you find yourself wanting another opinion, try asking a more genuine question: “Marie, I received a disturbing communication from Jerry. I am really upset by it. I could use some input in knowing how I might respond.”
You posed your request for Marie’s thoughts on the situation by first telling her your thoughts and asking for her help in seeking resolution. By doing so, you have encouraged a positive, but still honest, response. In other words, you helped Marie avoid falling into the “tell me what you really think” trap.
Accentuating the positive is always a right approach. Every situation is unique, but with practice for appropriateness, it is possible to share your opinion – or ask for someone’s opinion – in an honest, diplomatic manner.