Should You Tell Him He Has Chronic Bad Breath?: The Truth About Truth-Telling

Cats never lie about how they feel towards you at any given moment. (Which is why so many people prefer dogs.)

He’s arrogant and bossy. She just needs to butt out. He isn’t as good at his job as he thinks he is. She’s ruining her life by dating that guy. He has chronic bad breath. (Eww!)

Let’s face it – we’ve all met people who need to see the truth about themselves.

And while I believe wholeheartedly that the truth shall set you free, I don’t believe that full disclosure is (always) the best policy. I also don’t buy “Well, I was just being honest” as a good enough excuse for tactlessness and poor timing.

Before you confront people about their issues, consider these 4 things:

  • strategy
  • discipline
  • courage
  • compassion

Without these 4 ingredients, your advice is bound to make zero impact on the person, and perhaps even needlessly strain the relationship as a result.

A simple way to make sure these 4 ingredients are in place is to reflect on the who, the when, and the why:

Who – Are you the right person to break the news? Are you someone whose opinion matters to this person? Are you someone she respects? If the answer is no, you are not the right person to tell her — she won’t listen and she won’t change.

When – Is now a good time? Are his emotions still raw, or is his mind still not finished mulling things over? How stable is your relationship with him at this point? Is there an audience present, which might make him defensive or embarrassed during the confrontation? Is this a time in his life when he is open to hearing the painful truth? Timing is key.

Why – Do you want to help this person? Do you see potential in her? Are you rooting for her? Do you feel like getting it off your chest will improve your relationship with her? Or do you simply want to teach her a lesson and put her in her place? If it’s that last one, keep your opinion to yourself. Otherwise, speak the truth and be ready to support that person as she changes, fails, and tries again.

Bonus Tip

If you don’t score well in the who, when, and why categories but feel compelled to confront someone anyway…don’t. Or at least not until you’ve consulted with TWO trusted, wise, and unbiased people before going ahead with your plan. (Yup, I said TWO, not one.)

What are your experiences with successfully (or unsuccessfully) confronting people with the truth? What would you add to the advice above?

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14 Responses to Should You Tell Him He Has Chronic Bad Breath?: The Truth About Truth-Telling

  1. Anonymous says:


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  4. Allie says:

    Catching up on posts over lunch, and this one (combined with the books one) makes me want to suggest to you to read Crucial Conversations. It’s a pretty powerful book for self-analysis of your communication style and skills and how to meaningfully discuss tough issues with others.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Ooh, that sounds good. I’ll definitely have to check that one out — I think it would help me both professionally and personally. Thanks!

      • Allie says:

        No probs! I actually just ordered it for a friend today who I thought could use it in her life right now! Hope you enjoy. I think even just awareness of your own style and tendencies (fight or flight; aggressive or passive) is a major step forward… and it’s definitely applicable in every area of your life.

  5. Sheryl says:

    I onced worked in a place where we were regularly required to give “feedback” to ALL our other employees. Which could be great …. except that it too often devolved into “I think it’s an issue that you don’t believe in matching your socks” (my mother encouraged that habit, damnit, and I don’t care if it’s not professional. I was working retail.) or “I don’t like that x and y don’t agree on a lot of things, and have discussions on their opposing viewpoints.” But oh my, did I learn some interesting things about myself and other people from that environment.

    To me, that was an example of really missing the “WHO”. It did not work well.

    You’ve really nailed it on the head here Kim. I think especially the “WHY” and your rule at the end.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Hi Sheryl! Seems like an interesting thing to try in the workplace but without adhering to guidelines I could see how it could devolve into crticism about one’s unmatching socks. (By the way, I showed up at work today with socks that didn’t match, as I do on most days!)

      PS. I emailed you our Beavis & Butthead impersonation — did you get it??

      • Sheryl says:

        It was an interesting idea in the workplace, and I think that the company was just too loose for constant feedback to work in a productive way sometimes. Some locations I was at there was amazing feedback, but particularly at places where it was high-competition the whole idea did not work.

        I just found your email … stupid spam filter. Thank you!!!!!! That was so sweet to send it. For some reason the file’s not working but I have a feeling once Bunny gets home he’ll magically fix the computer or know the software I need to play it. It’s how he does.

        • Kimberly Eclipse says:

          Yeah, it’s interesting how so many things have to be in place for advice and criticism to actually be helpful — from the mindset and strategy of the giver, to the maturity, confidence, and humility of the receiver, and finally, to the support measures that must be put in place so that the receiver can actually implement suggestions and maintain them.

          I hope Bunny can get it to work! Let me know.

  6. Grace says:

    I had befriended coworker whose work habits and personality grated on enough people complained to the powers that be and were planning on confronting her about it. I learned about this future confrontation and thought I would warn her what was in store.

    I gave specific examples of incidents that she could look back on to see if perhaps she may have used a different approach. I thought I was giving her advice that someone who had become a friend outside of the workplace would want, in a respectful and constructive way. She did not agree. She felt that it was all my own perception of the dynamic in the workplace and that my statements were not based on reality.

    Management came down on her as I knew the would. She railed against our supervisors, wrote letters of protest and then handed in a letter of resignation, which was later rescinded. Our work relationship and eventually our friendship became strained. She never said acknowledged that my warning was warranted. Lesson learned. Mind your own business.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Yikes! Sounds like she was in denial of the truth despite everyone’s consensus about the severity of her flaws. I’m sorry that you lost a good friendship because of this mess. :(

      While it’s true that there may have been a misstep on your part in terms of timing and maybe strategy, I don’t think you necessarily had to completely “mind your own business” either. After all, you were a good friend of hers and you were concerned. You certainly fit the “who” category described in my post, and as her friend there is no question that you had a role to play in this situation. I guess the question is: What should your role have been? Complex stuff!

  7. Except for with an unnamed cousin I tend to be a confirmed non-combatant. I thoroughly dislike conflict though I am well versed in conflict resolution techniques. Truth be told, there are very few instances that require us to point out others’ faults with brutal honesty and unsolicited advice is rarely welcome. I remember when we were at seminary in Maine. We were attending a community gathering and Brian had gone ahead and was hanging with a (friend?). As his mom and I approached we heard him unleash some particularly colorful language at his buddy. Without much aforethought, I screamed at him something like, “IF I EVER HEAR THAT LANGUAGE COME OUT OF YOUR MOUTH AGAIN I’LL SHOVE A PIECE OF SOAP SO FAR DOWN YOUR THROAT THAT YOU’LL BE BLOWING BUBBLES UNTIL YOUR NEXT BIRTHDAY!” Incidentally, this is the exact kind of thing my mom would say to me when my mouth got out of hand. I’ve also quoted Bill Cosby as a parenting guru with, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out.” But back to that day in seminary. A fellow seminarian approached me and advised, “You shouldn’t threaten your son with things you’re not willing to follow through on.” To this I replied, (still fuming at my son’s language) “Mind your f*cking business! If I want f*cking parenting advice from you I’ll f*cking ask!” Anyway, in my own colorful way, I’m suggesting that minding ones’ own bleeping business is, in most cases, the best course of action, especially when it comes to unsolicited advice.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Oh my! Yup, unsolicited advice never seems helpful in the moment, even if there’s value and truth in it. I can appreciate someone stepping in if they feel a child is being severely mistreated or abused. But if it’s not an abusive situation, it’s pointless to share your opinion on someone’s parenting style — it doesn’t help, it makes the advice-giver look like a jerk, and it makes it even less likely that the parent will acknowledge any grain of truth in what was spoken.

      The seminarian was probably thinking that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, though. Lol. ;)

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