We all appreciate a leader who is honest and direct in the way they speak. Good leaders strive for clarity and truthfulness. However, do you know that you can cross the line into what I call being “overly direct”?
An overly direct leader can be abrupt. They may not recognize when they have not provided the care and time needed to speak to others in such a way that there is a give and take in the conversation. They may appear to have an attitude of “its my way or the high-way”. They may be rushed, and may not be fully present in the conversation. An emotional hot button in the leader may be hit, and their tone of voice may escalate and become more insistent.
The line is thin between being direct and crossing into being overly direct. When the line is crossed it can shut people down, stop creative thinking, and make more work for you as others either avoid you or ask you for direction at every turn because they don’t want to deal with your negative reactions. If you want to be inclusive, to foster innovation, and to have staff that are fully functional and independent, you may need to find a way to dial back on your bluntness while still being clear and honest in your communication.
If you’ve had feedback that indicates that others perceive your communication style as too direct, brusque, abrupt, rigid, or blunt, here are some ways to pause and reconsider your reactions when you are communicating with others:
Slow down: Take some deep breaths, all the way down into your belly. This will oxygenate your brain, giving you a fighting chance at thinking rationally. Ground yourself in the present moment. Sure, you have lots to do and think about, but this moment is all you have. Make it count by paying attention to it.
Stop and listen: Stop talking and listen to the individual you are speaking to. Face them, look them in the eye and tune in to what they are saying. Honestly – this is the most important thing you can learn to do. I have seen better listening take care of the overly direct style almost single handedly.
Observe yourself: With practice, you can learn to pay attention to your reactions in the moment and still be present with the person you are speaking to. Learn to recognize the emotional triggers that may make your tone too insistent, harsh, rushed or abrupt. When you feel those triggers coming on, you know its time to slow down and breathe.
Observe them: Pay attention to the reactions others have when you are communicating with them. Do you observe fear or engagement? Have you shut them down or are they conversing with you? Put some warmth in your tone and slow your pace so that they will speak up.
Put yourself in their shoes: A little bit of empathy can go a long way in avoiding being too blunt. Think about how you might feel if someone were being too blunt in their conversation with you. Dial it back by asking them a question to invite them back into the conversation.
You can still be honest and direct without crossing the line into bluntness and shutting others down. Your effectiveness as a leader may depend on dialing back your overly direct style.