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Psychology

Real Talk

Real talk is when we drop the armor, cut the bullshit, and speak wholeheartedly.

Real talk is when we say things that aren’t being said out loud. No wasting time, no beating around the bush. It pushes you out of hiding and encourages you to face the things you fear. It enables you to set a higher bar for yourself because it comes from a place of love, of wanting to see your friend/partner/colleague do better because you believe they can.

Not everyone understands this level of communication and openness. Try real talk with a stranger or someone you just met, and chances are, it will go poorly. That’s because there’s no trust, no mutual permission to say the scary things out loud. Without trust and connection, the feedback will be taken in the wrong way, and the person will feel like their identity is under siege. Real talk works when the person is eager for feedback, when they trust your point of view, when they know something is amiss in their life and are seeking a clearer perspective — it’s an avenue to show them what they’re ignoring or missing because you know they want to be better.

The giver of real talk has to realize a few important things: Real talk must come from the heart, from a stance of near-objectivity, rather than the self-serving feeling of being right. Observe your friend’s situation as an outsider. Listen to their frustrations. Look for the fear, the tension, and the story (maybe the lies) they’re telling themself. Your work as a friend is to help them get unstuck and to consider options that weren’t obvious before. This is only possible with a posture of empathy. Realize that their heartstrings are tied to the situation. Be kind and direct.

The receiver of real talk has to realize a few important things. If you’re entering the arena of real talk, enter it with an open mind and check your ego at the door. You’ve hit a wall, and that’s okay. You’re in need of a reality check to help you overcome this obstacle. The fruitfulness of these conversations is about receiving clarity, making better decisions, and changing your path. You’re emotionally tied to this situation — whether it’s a breakup, a job loss, or a decision to move to a new country — and your imagination has your mind spinning in a thousand ways. Real talk grounds you back into reality and enables you to see what’s truly viable. Have empathy for the person being honest with you; they just dropped their armor and observed a truth that no one else is acknowledging, and they are speaking from a place of love and care. They genuinely want to see you do better. If at any point you feel your ego being bruised, that’s a good sign to know where you stand in this situation.

Real talk is when I said to a friend, “That’s an example of acting like a privileged white dude” and him not being offended, considering my point of view, and having the self-awareness to check himself. Real talk is when my friend said to me when I was burning out, “You need to calm the fuck down, disconnect, and find your center again. This isn’t you, and we both know it. What can you do for yourself right now to start the process of self-care?” Seneca once said, “Life is long if you know how to use it.” We use life well when we operate from a place of love, integrity, and generosity — especially when it involves our words.

The truth of real talk is this: people crave authenticity. We’ve become accustomed to half-hearted conversations and boring small talk. People are ready for it, eager to be surprised by a rare level of vulnerability mixed with kindness. But real talk isn’t easy work. It is birthed from a connection that’s earned, and it’s a practice that takes time and repetition. You might not always get it right, and you might not always receive it well, either. Giving real talk is an exercise in helping others, but also in teaching yourself how to communicate honestly and from the heart.

— PAUL JUN