Got Sugar? Learning to Speak Truth with Grace


Whatever you call it…

  • A Spoonful of Sugar
  • Tact
  • Wisdom
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Speaking Grace with Truth

Do you have it?

When I was 24, I was a Youth Director.

  • My favorite part of the job was spending time with the teenagers.
  • While a not-so favorite part of the job was holding them accountable for crossing boundaries.

Early in my new position, a fun-loving young man crossed many boundaries while we were on a weekend trip that was within driving distance of our location.

I knew that within a few months, he was scheduled to attend a much longer trip that was several hours away by plane.

So I called his parents and asked for a meeting.

I don’t remember exactly what I said when his mother arrived, but I’m sure it was filled with more truth than grace.  When she left my office, she was upset and later I got a call from a very angry father.

Later when a much more experienced leader met with this young man’s parents, he complimented them on how charming their son was. (No doubt about it, this young man oozed charm.)  And as these parents nodded in agreement, this wise leader, made the point that their son often leveraged his charm to avoid responsibility.

With a spoonful of sugar, he gave them the truth they needed and filled it with so much grace they heard the message.     

 I was in complete awe.   He had articulated the truth so beautifully and the result was so effective that I’ve never forgotten it.

Over the past few months several people have commented on my tact.

  • Each time, I smile and think, “If you only knew.” …As my mind flashes mental pictures of all the times I haven’t been so tactful.
  • Each time, I remember the lesson in the story I just shared with you.
  • And then, I think of how easy it is to blow it when I am tired, or stressed or distracted by how I feel instead of focusing on how others feel.

If you take pride in speaking the truth, but struggle to express it with grace, be encouraged:

Tips to becoming more tactful:

  1. Pray about it.
  2. Listen to wise leaders that are tactful.
  3. Tell a trusted friend or coach that speaks truth with grace that you want to improve in this area and ask them to help you. They can help you think through a tough conversation before it happens, AND help you work through a conversation after you’ve blown it.
  4. Be vulnerable and bring some humor. (One of my colleagues came to see me one day, carrying a container of sugar. She said she needed to talk, said she wasn’t sure that she knew how to bring figurative sugar to the conversation, so she literally brought sugar with her to let me know that she cared about me, even if she didn’t know how to deliver the feedback in a tactful way.)

Want more on this topic?

What are your thoughts?Please share:

  • Have you ever struggled to be tactful?
  • How did you change that?
  • When are you tempted to revert to old behaviors?

President, Giana Consulting

Chery Gegelman is an adventurer that loves to learn. ...Deep conversations, books, travel, and daily living are all food for growth.

As a speaker, facilitator and workshop leader she creates energizing environments that reflect God's grace, tear down walls, help people to consider new perspectives, and inspire change.

Chery is the Founder of Giana Consulting and Conversation Safari's, listed as a Great Leadership Speaker by Inc., writes a recognized leadership blog and has co-authored two leadership books.

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20 thoughts on “Got Sugar? Learning to Speak Truth with Grace

  1. This has been a life long struggle for me. I can be a very black and white person where it comes to right and wrong and truth and lies, and as such, I spent much of my life trying to dump a lot of truth on people with very little grace. But then I think God allowed me to have to be on the receiving end of that from some people and to realize how emotionally devastating it can be. Really, just within the last few years have I really started to learn how to speak the truth with love and grace and I think a big part of that began with starting to see myself, much like the Apostle Paul did, as the chief of all sinners, needing grace more than anyone else. When you start from that perspective, it’s much easier to let your first thoughts towards others to be love and compassion.

    • It sounds like you and I could have a good long talk about this! I have really struggled as well especially with people who lie, or manipulate the truth on a daily basis. When I wrote this post, I did not have a master-plan to stay with the theme… But something came up this week that pulled an old memory out of my mental database that fits well with this theme. And it will be Tuesday’s post!

      Have a great weekend Mike!

  2. Thank you Chery! I don’t remember the incident to mentioned. I do remember, however, too many other situations when I failed to live up to what my Lord wanted me to be. I read your entire article and I saw wonderful insights that will be helpful to many who read them. At the same time I am still seeing the old Chery with her vibrant and bubbly personality that made everyone feel at ease and I hope you will never outgrow those qualities. It is my prayer for you that you will continue to grow, not only in wisdom, but above all in being a caring and loving person who will bring joy and inner peace as a result of what you communicated to them.

    • Reinhold, It is so great to hear from you here! I’m glad you read the post, and thank you again for being the wise leader that gave me such a powerful lesson about tact so early in my career. Thank you for sharing some of your own struggle and for your encouragement. Big hugs to you! Chery

  3. Hi Chery

    Loved the message … and the story to support it. It resonated so strongly with me because I began working with young people at the age of 20 and I so understood where you were!

    As a confirmed ‘bull-in-a-china-shop’ young professional, I did less tact, less grace and more ‘in your face’. As you might have expected, this met with a very mixed bag of results … not always positive either way!

    Now many years older … and hopefully somewhat wiser, I like to think I can now give great feedback, which is constructive and helpful, in a tactful way.

    Thanks for sharing your story … and refreshing a great message!

    Kind regards


  4. Great post , Chery!

    If leaders could only grasp that people DO want to be treated with respect and kindness!

    Even as an FBI agent interviewing suspects, I got SO much more mileage out of using a little sugar instead if vinegar!

    Great post and important message!

    • LaRae, Have I told you lately how much I would love to sit by a fire and just visit with you? I love the “Salsa Mix” of the Wyoming Cattle Rancher, Fashion-Buyer, FBI Agent, Giver of Grace, Champion of Strong Minds, Dog-Lover and Leadership Guru that lives in you! …And I’m inspired imagining you adding a spoonful of sugar to your interviews in the FBI! Thank you for sharing!

  5. I think you’ve touched on a subject many people gloss over. How many folks excuse their compassion-less actions because they justify that the truth must be told.

    Chery, you’ve given a wonderful example here of how this can be done, and when done right, the remarkable benefits to everyone involved.

    Appreciate the post!

  6. I just love this post because it really is all about how we share our point of view with others. I also appreciate how you open up to us with your beautiful stories and lessons learned, Chery!

    I too have learned to be gentler in how I present my case to others and I model myself after several bosses I met in my career. They were able to share honest and constructive feedback by being genuine and showing that they really cared to help me grow. People can feel when we think they matter and that can help us tone down our words.

    Thanks Chery!

    • Thank you Terri! This post gave me the opportunity to share that treasured learning with the boss I wrote about. (More than two decades later!)

      I deeply appreciate your feedback about my stories.

      I read something years ago about a group of business leaders that decided to meet to help each other grow. In their first meeting they were asked to share a mistake they had made and what they learned from it. One person in the group really struggled to do that. The response from the group was that if he was not willing to put his rock on the table trust could not be built.

      Making the decision to put my rocks in this blog was terrifying at first.

      But I’m beginning to understand that the people who read this blog need to see that I am a very imperfect human being that has learned more from my mistakes than from the things I got right the first time.

      And I hope that when they read those stories they know they are not alone. And that they are encouraged to keep trying!

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