The truth is powerful. It can also be painful.

If you're the type that prides yourself on always telling it like it is, you might consistently remember the first part of this reality, while sometimes forgetting the second. Sure, constructive feedback can help your team grow, your entrepreneur friend improve her business, or your supplier better serve you. But flat out criticism can also hurt people's feelings, harm relationships, and make you, well, a jerk.

On blog Fistful of Talent recently, HR pro Ben Olds addresses this balancing act between honesty and kindness, aiming the post especially at those with a tendency to make their straight talk a little too straight.

"When you trigger someone else into feeling hurt, bullied, abused, disrespected, etc., chances are they are going to oppose your point-of-view out of principle, even if it's a good idea. This makes your life tougher and your dialogues worse," he warns.

The post is a healthy reminder for the proudly brusque, but in it Olds also goes a step further, not just cautioning self-described straight shooters of the social and business costs of stepping over the line that separates directness from rudeness, but also offering three helpful tips to keep you on the right side of the divide.

1. Balance advocacy and inquiry.

"There's real power in demonstrating genuine curiosity into the opposing point-of-view before you launch into attacking it. Likewise, there's value in asking if you're missing anything after you lay out your own point-of-view," writes Olds. He's not the only one advocating that those inclined to rush in should remind themselves of the value of a bit of extra investigation and reflection.

Basecamp founder Jason Fried wrote a whole post confessing to being the type of hothead who always rushed in with his (honest, direct) opinion, and chronicling how he reformed himself. The key takeaway is much the same as Olds' -- just take a little time to ask a few questions and think things over before you exercise your admirable frankness.

2 Criticize ideas, not people

"If someone says something you disagree with, discuss the idea and fall short of discussing why the person who voiced the idea is dumb, selfish, mad, or evil. Sounds obvious, but I'm shocked at how often people don't realize their argument has shifted from the idea to the person!" writes Olds. It's a healthy reminder (and one that could save many a political conversation from devolving into an unproductive shouting match).

3 Don't lead with authority

Sure, you might be more experienced. You might be more qualified. Heck, you might even be plain, old right. But that's not why people should (or will) listen to what you say. "Instead, build relationships with your co-workers, learn their motivations, and speak to those motivations when you're trying to influence them. Care about their buy-in and not just their agreement to execute your orders. And for god's sake consider their points-of-view with an open mind!" Olds stresses.

Where's the line for you -- what separates healthy honesty from unhelpful brusqueness?

Published on: Nov 16, 2015
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