How are you at speaking directly and clearly? Some of us like to “sugar coat” the truth so we don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Others are “too blunt” to the point of harshness. If you fall in one camp or the other, finding a balanced approach might be a better way to go.
- Pay attention to your communication for a few days, and listen for hedging with understatement, misdirection, or apology. If you hear these behaviors, you might be too soft. If you hear accusations, forceful tone or language, or lots of “you” messages, you might be too tough. To find and maintain that middle ground that is honest, direct, and clear (but short on aggression) consider the following before you speak.
- Consider your intent. What is the purpose of this communication? Is it small talk with peers? Is it corrective in nature? Is it brainstorming? What do you want to get out of this communication? A disciplined but intimidated direct report? Or better understanding and cooperation within your team? Setting your intention ahead of the conversion is a powerful tool for driving your communication behavior.
- Master your timing. If your direct report comes in late, or makes a mistake, you might be tempted to address it immediately. But should you? Who else—customers or coworkers—will overhear your criticism? Better wait for a private moment. Also, what about your emotions? If you are frustrated, that will impair your ability to speak in a fair, impartial way. However, if you tend to be “too nice” or postpone uncomfortable conversations, you might want to make a rule for yourself to deal with issues within the same business day.
- Weigh your words. Words like “always” and “never” beg to be argued with. Critical words like “careless” or “incompetent” will raise defensiveness. Consider searching for wording that is truthful yet neutral. And if you tend to be too nice and indirect, consider—and rehearse if needed—direct words such as, “this report needs to be corrected today.”
- Be aware of your body language. Watch for incongruent body language. If you are a person who smiles all the time, people may find it hard to take you seriously. Conversely, if your face or body language often looks angry or disapproving, your words may be taken as more negative than you mean them to. Strive for a neutral tone, face and body language.
- Tune into listening skills. If you want to build communication rather than just bark out orders, it would be helpful to hone and employ your best listening skills. Ask open-ended questions to hear the other person’s point of view. Listen to what they have to say, how they say it, and what they don’t say.
- Maintain consistency. If you want your communication brand to be “honest and direct,” you will need to continually think before you speak, choose direct words, and tell the truth. Doing these things now and then won’t build your brand, but may just confuse those you deal with, since they don’t know from day to day what to expect from you.