Getting the real story out of someone can feel like a delicate dance. I’ve learned that listening and observing people is a sure way to get to know them. My father communicated this skill to me by teaching me how to let things play out, see how people demonstrate their choices and hear them out when they’re expressing what they believe is an accurate version of their reality. In the course of ministry, friendships and other relationships, I’ve seen the difference between being honest, forthcoming and truthful.
A good example is if you ask a child about an incident of when she takes a cookie from the cookie jar at a time when she’s not supposed to.
Honest: This is giving the factual answer.
Mom: Did you take the cookie?
She doesn’t lie. Even if she intended to lie, eventually the answer of yes comes out. But if you don’t ask, you may not know. I’ve seen people withhold information and let out a sigh of relief when they tell their story or share their trauma. But it only comes out after we ask. Haven’t we had a piece of information that we’ve carried and we decided that our cue to unload it is “if they ask me?”
Forthcoming: This is being honest without additional prompting. This is the voluntarily telling the story.
The child walks into the room and tells her mom that she took a cookie out the jar, with a relative sense of an oncoming consequence. Or if the mom noticed that she didn’t eat as much dinner and the child answers that she had a cookie earlier and it curbed her appetite.
Truthful: This is giving factual answers plus the real reason underneath the choice.
Did you take the cookie?
Because I didn’t want to wait until dinner and I’d rather enjoy a cookie now because I’ve not developed the skill of waiting nor did I consider the consequence of your punishment. And I’m five. I wanna eat what I want when I want.
It might sound like a reach, but if you’ve experienced someone telling you the truth, especially if it has a revelation that clears up your understanding, then you may agree that even an admission of ill intention is readily received, as long as it is the truth.
I believe we practice honesty, being forthcoming and being truthful to some degree in most situations. When trying to mend a relationship, breaking from a toxic involvement or clearing up a misunderstanding with a loved one, I encourage you to consider how you want to be. You can be honest, but are you being loving? You can be forthcoming and still be considerate of the other person’s feelings. You can be truthful without holding contempt and still deliver a message of genuine care and concern.
When listening to other people, remember that we all have a degree of fear of being judged. Being honest, forthcoming and truthful make us vulnerable and we might dish out details in piecemeal versions. Remember to be gentle, though it’s difficult when we’re on a quest for truth. Forcing an answer may bring about honesty but it can damage the opportunity for openness.
One more thing to note: we need training on how to do all three. The Bible says that we are all sinners. We are not naturally honest, forthcoming or truthful. We are not good at it. But we tend to repeat things that we are rewarded for. Make it as easy as possible for people to be honest, forthcoming and truthful with you. Listen well.