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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  July 07, 2016

How to Be Honest Without Sounding Obnoxious

People will listen to hard truths if they know we care about them.

I ran across an interesting debate on social media. What is the best way to tell the truth about a situation? I was deluged with client work at the time, so I didn’t chime in. But the question has stuck with me.

Two schools of thought: 1. Be bold. If folks can’t suck it up, they will select out and 2. Be compassionate. Truth comes in many shades, and there’s no reason to be obnoxious.

I see both sides. I was pretty harsh in my earlier years—impatient with all the delusions and ignorance about the marketplace. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve found another way. Here’s how to be honest without sounding like a jerk:

• Check out your intention. The first person who should hear the brutal truth is you. Are you really trying to help or are you jockeying for position? Are you using the “bold” method as a personal brand or are you focused on influencing others? Keep in mind that sophisticated buyers can spot “big me, little you” maneuvers at 50 paces. They won’t put up with it.


Related: How Thought Leaders Tell the Truth


• Check out your vocabulary. Some words are more judgmental than others. Some words are hostile. Using dramatic language may feel good at the time, but often those words turn away more people than they help.

• Check out your first move. Clients show me their work and ask my opinion. If it needs work, I won’t launch into a list of criticisms. Instead I’ll say something like this: “This is a good first step. Now let’s take this puppy to the next level.” What you do first sets the stage for what happens next.

As a good friend and executive coach once told me, “Approach is everything.” People will listen to hard truths if they know we care about them.


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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.