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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Difficult Conversations: Navigating the Tension between Honesty and Benevolence

E. Levine, A. Roberts, & T. Cohen
Originally published 18 Jul 19


Difficult conversations are a necessary part of everyday life. To help children, employees, and partners learn and improve, parents, managers, and significant others are frequently tasked with the unpleasant job of delivering negative news and critical feedback. Despite the long-term benefits of these conversations, communicators approach them with trepidation, in part, because they perceive them as involving intractable moral conflict between being honest and being kind. In this article, we review recent research on egocentrism, ethics, and communication to explain why communicators overestimate the degree to which honesty and benevolence conflict during difficult conversations, document the conversational missteps people make as a result of this erred perception, and propose more effective conversational strategies that honor the long-term compatibility of honesty and benevolence. This review sheds light on the psychology of moral tradeoffs in conversation, and provides practical advice on how to deliver unpleasant information in ways that improve recipients’ welfare.

From the Summary:

Difficult conversations that require the delivery of negative information from communicators to targets involve perceived moral conflict between honesty and benevolence. We suggest that communicators exaggerate this conflict. By focusing on the short-term harm and unpleasantness associated with difficult conversations, communicators fail to realize that honesty and benevolence are actually compatible in many cases. Providing honest feedback can help a target to learn and grow, thereby improving the target’s overall welfare. Rather than attempting to resolve the honesty-benevolence dilemma via communication strategies that focus narrowly on the short-term conflict between honesty and emotional harm, we recommend that communicators instead invoke communication strategies that integrate and maximize both honesty and benevolence to ensure that difficult conversations lead to long-term welfare improvements for targets. Future research should explore the traits, mindsets, and contexts that might facilitate this approach. For example, creative people may be more adept at integrative solutions to the perceived honesty-dilemma conflict, and people who are less myopic and more cognizant of the future consequences of their choices may be better at recognizing the long-term benefits of honesty.

The info is here.

This research has relevance to psychotherapy.