There may be times when you may feel that enveloping your message in a generous coat of nice will make communication with others better. But the reality is that upon closer observation communication-related sprinkles – whether made out of politeness, emphasis or flattery – not only do not push meaningful relationships forward but may actually endanger otherwise healthy interactions.
Here is why sugar-coating authentic messages is bad for you… and for everyone else.
- Sugar-coated communication is Manipulative. It doesn’t matter what your reason behind sugar-coating is – Trying not to be the one who upsets the other person, wanting to avoid conflict or a desire to enhance your persuasive power, etc. – the result is that you will modify the other one’s perception regarding your message in a way that favors you. That is manipulation.
- Sugar-coated communication is Condescending. If you are telling yourself that you are being a good person because you make the effort to wrap up your message nicely so that it won’t hurt the other person’s feelings, then you are not acting in a kind way, but in a superior one. We are only responsible for our actions. As long as they are not directly harming the other person, we act in an assertive way and pretty much check off the “kind person” box. Assuming that the person you are engaging with does not have the emotional maturity to deal with a less-than-praising message is an aggressive stance. You think that the other one’s emotional well-being depends on you, and that is false. We don’t have that kind of power when it comes to others. Stop believing you do.
- Sugar-coated communication is Misleading. When you say things you do not actually mean, you’re guiding the other person in the wrong direction interaction-wise. Let’s say one of your amateur actor friends invites you to see him in his latest play. You accept the invitation, but the play is not exactly your style and being in that theater chair for two full hours was an excruciating experience. Now, you don’t want to hurt your friend’s feelings, so you tell him “You were great! The play was… different. I’ve never seen anything like it before.” You did it. You saved your friend’s feelings. Also, don’t be surprised when you get the next invitation from him in the mail.
- Sugar-coated communication can be Passive-Aggressive. You may choose to say nice things you don’t mean because you don’t want to be seen as the bad guy. You may even use formulations that convey the real meaning but in a code that the target cannot necessarily break, go along with decisions you do not agree with, or apparently engage in contexts you have no interest for, etc.. All of this while thinking “Cannot believe he/she didn’t catch on”, “How come he/she doesn’t see it yet?”, and similar things. These are all passive-aggressive tactics. They are meant to protect you from the potentially negative effects, not the other one.
But if sugar-coating is not a good communication strategy, does it mean that I should simply convey whatever crosses my mind, without any sort of filter?
The answer to this question depends on the type of your predominant mindset. If you are predominantly guided by assertive principles – non-passive and non-aggressive, then you could probably limit your processing to simply verifying that your message is indeed in line with your opinion.
Otherwise, saying exactly what you think may either directly harm the other person – if you would convey unjustified criticism, for example – or could end up being an off-topic commentary that contributes nothing to the conversation and does not support the development of the relationship – it could be relevant to you, but not in the context of the discussion you are having with the other person.
Sugar-coating is a communication tool, but only for those who cannot engage in an authentic interaction that is mutually supportive and nurturing. There is no need to use it if your views about yourself and the other one are governed by assertive principles. I see sugar-coating as a trick, not a skill, and I would never recommend its use, especially since there are so many other communication techniques available, techniques that provide better, long-lasting results.
After all, many of us already know that a nice wrapper does not necessarily make a gift better. In the same manner, conversations can be sweet without tons of unnecessary sprinkles. Give this new social recipe a try and you and your close ones may optimize the tonus of your relationship in no time!