“I just call it like I see it.” “I’m not a touchy-feely person.” “I don’t beat around the bush; I just let the chips fall where they may.” Such comments frequently fall from the lips of sharp-shooters, who haven’t learned the difference between direct communication and bluntness.
Direct doesn’t mean down and dirty. Effective leaders never confuse direct, bold, straightforward communication with bluntness. Bold communication involves breaking bad news or bringing up sensitive issues that might be difficult to handle well but that have high payoff value if the discussion proves productive. Bluntness, on the other hand, is careless communication.
Five criteria separate the bold from blunt communicators:
Preparation: Bold communicators typically plan for the sensitive conversations and meetings. Blunt communicators just “pop off”—and then live to regret it.
Timing: Bold communicators consider the best time—both emotional time and physical time––to bring up a sensitive topic. They don’t bring up the matter of a raise two weeks after a restructure. They don’t schedule a conference for negative feedback on performance two days after someone’s spouse has asked for divorce.
Tone: Attitude comes through in tone of voice—whether writing, speaking, or facilitating a team discussion. Bold communicators get their emotions under control before attempting to communicate feedback, directions, or preferences to others. Not so, with blunt communicators. Their sour attitude intensifies otherwise neutral words and turns them into negatives.
Phrasing: Bold communication requires carefully selected, persuasive words. Blunt words just roll off the tongue—they may help or hinder the speaker’s cause.
Outcome: Bold communicators have a goal in mind and a strategy to get there. Blunt communicators let their tongue control them. What they say is what they get—and often what they don’t want: defiance, disengagement, disrespect, and disapproval.
Bluntness shuts down dialogue. Boldness opens it. Bluntness reveals hostility. Boldness conveys hope. Bluntness lacks forethought. Boldness takes courage. Bluntness sabotages resolution. Boldness initiates interaction.