After six hours of “brutally honest” conversations between quarterback Brett Favre and Green Bay Packers management, they parted ways.

  • Jim Collins, who authored From Good to Great, says one of the key differences between good companies and great ones is their ability to “confront the brutally honest facts.”

  • One company even uses the term “brutal” in its statement of values:

CandorWe believe in "brutal conversations"; the ability to be honest, direct and challenging with each other while always being professional. We will never tell you "what you want to hear", but we will tell you what you need to hear.

What does the word “brutal” add to that statement? And how do you square “being professional” with being brutal? Let’s look behind the cliché and see it for what it is.

Merriam-Webster defines brutal like this: Befitting a brute: as a: grossly ruthless or unfeeling b: cruel,   cold-blooded c: harsh, severe d: unpleasantly accurate and incisive.

Honestly, does honesty have to be brutal to be effective? Does the truth have to leave us bloodied and reeling in order for it to have an impact? Even when delivered with kindness and goodwill, truth can be hard to hear. I can think of plenty of instances when people held up a mirror for me, and I didn’t find the reflection particularly attractive. But that was about me, not the honesty of the reflection.

Thinking back, it seems the times the truth became brutal – whether delivered or received – had to do with a desire to land a punch. The intention was to hurt, or to exercise authority, or deliver bad news in a cruel way.

Honesty? By all means. Brutal? Well, maybe that’s not really necessary. Perhaps we could start thinking about “compassionately honest conversations.” Or better yet, we could wish for the day when “conversations” won’t need to be modified by the word “honest.”