4 Tips for Speaking With Both Honesty and Empathy

Too much empathy might lead you to lie to avoid hurting the other person. And too much sincerity can make you seem rude. So how can you balance these two elements in your relationships?
4 Tips for Speaking With Both Honesty and Empathy
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Speaking with both honesty and empathy isn’t easy. Honesty is a fundamental value when relating to other people. No one likes to discover that they’ve been deceived or betrayed. This inevitably leads to a loss of trust in the person who lied.

However, when it comes to honesty, not everything goes, especially when you take into account that the feelings of others are at stake. So, honesty and empathy are two concepts that need to go hand in hand.

In today’s societies, individualism, competitiveness, and a misguided idea of independence are all important. Because of this, people sometimes assume that honesty is always the best policy, but they forget the consequences that their words can have for others. So how can you be frank and empathetic at the same time? Here’s how.

What is honesty?

Honesty is the ability to align your thoughts, words, and actions. In this way, you express what you believe to be true and, at the same time, act in accordance with what you think and say. Honesty leaves no room for lies, falsehoods, or secrets. It also leaves no room for empty words or unfulfilled promises.

An honest person is real and true, and expresses this truth even if the consequences might not be favorable for them. It’s a personal value that’s closely related to integrity, and respect both for yourself and others.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes so that you can understand their thought process and identify the emotions they experience. To be empathetic means considering the internal emotional world of others, and making the effort to step outside yourself for a moment to try to understand their point of view.

An empathetic person doesn’t judge, lie or humiliate, because they understand how these actions can affect the other person. And, by taking a moment to feel that pain as their own, they choose the path of understanding, tact, and human warmth.

Although, at first glance, it may seem that honesty and empathy have little in common, the reality is that they’re both essential in daily life. In other words, either one of them without the other can have negative consequences.

For example, an excess of empathy may lead you to lie to avoid harming others, what’s known as “white lies”. Although this may avoid conflict in the short term, it can end up creating feelings of guilt and causing a sense of betrayal in the other person when they discover the lack of honesty.

On the other hand, sincerity without empathy doesn’t work either. If you’re direct and sincere without considering the emotional aspect, then other people may perceive you as brusque, rude or tactless. As a result, you may experience social rejection or interpersonal conflicts.

4 tips for speaking with both honesty and empathy

To be clear, honesty and empathy need to go hand in hand if you want to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. However, it’s not always easy to apply these two concepts together; here we’ll share some tips to help you.

1. Respect others

When communicating with other people, you need to remember that respect is fundamental. Respecting others means believing that they deserve to know the truth and that you should therefore be honest with them. But it also means taking their feelings into consideration, since no one deliberately harms a person they respect.

2. Work on your assertiveness

Assertive communication is essential. Sometimes, the fear of being rejected or that others will reject your opinion may lead you to lie to try to please. For the same reason, you need to work on your self-confidence and learn to express yourself assertively.

In the same way, if you let aggressiveness take over and you’re unable to control your impulses, you can easily hurt other people with your words. Remember that you don’t have to belittle the other person’s point of view in order to assert your own.

Find out more: Is Non-Violent Communication Possible?

3. Use constructive language

If you have to communicate unpleasant information to another person, it’s best to use constructive language. What does this mean? Choosing the right words and suggesting solutions instead of criticizing or judging.

4. Be aware of your non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication is even more important than words when it comes to delivering a message. Aspects such as your tone of voice, body language, or the time and place you choose to communicate an idea can make a difference. Remember to pay attention to these things so that the other person doesn’t feel attacked or threatened.

Speaking with both honesty and empathy can help your well-being

Our values define us as people, and we show them through our actions and interactions with others. Practicing honesty and empathy in daily life may take effort at first, but, in the long run, it leads to better personal and social well-being.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Fernández-Pinto, I., López-Pérez, B., & Márquez, M. (2008). Empatía: Medidas, teorías y aplicaciones en revisión. Anales de Psicología/Annals of Psychology24(2), 284-298.
  • Pereira, M. L. N. (2008). Relaciones interpersonales adecuadas mediante una comunicación y conducta asertivas. Actualidades investigativas en educación8(1).
  • Baró, T. (2012). La gran guía del lenguaje no verbal. Cómo aplicarlo en nuestras relaciones para lograr el éxito y la felicidad.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.