We’ve all had times we’ve needed to be blunt with someone.
But it doesn’t matter if it was with your boss, a peer, subordinate or loved one- it’s never easy.
Either way, this is a skill that cannot be avoided. Whether you’re managing messaging across your team, problem-solving, or making decisions, striking a balance between being blunt and respectful must be mastered because effective communication is the foundation for successful leadership.
So where does one start on this journey to master the art of being blunt? Today’s episode is all about the specific factors to take into consideration as you decide the best approach to your situation, and how to use them to your advantage.
These factors include (but are not limited to):
- Specific delivery-oriented strategies you can immediately apply to your messaging (9:30)
- Paraverbals – what they are and how to practice them (12:00)
- How to actively listen without coming off as passive aggressive (14:15)
- The particular components of context that you MUST be mindful of (24:30)
As helpful and informative as this episode is, it really only scrapes the surface of direct yet mindful communication. If you’re looking for more access to information on these topics, you really need to check out our digital Mighty Network Community. This is a spot where you can enhance your professional development through a variety of mediums – and you can choose which way you’d like to participate based completely on your own learning preferences!
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On the other hand, if you’re ready to really dive in, and get first-hand experience with the role play and improv referenced in the episode, we have the perfect event for you. Learn to identify and leverage power dynamics, utilize the most appropriate influence tactics, and understand your audience on a deeper level at The Apprenticeship™.
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Brett Bartholomew 00:00
Hey, thanks for joining me for another episode of the podcast. Today we’re going to be discussing a crucial topic that all leaders and coaches have to master how to walk the line between being direct, yet respectful across various contexts. Now, this is important because as many of you know, effective communication is the foundation of success in any leadership role. And we contextualize and look at leadership, as it doesn’t matter if you’re a coach, a manager, a teacher, an educator, somebody leads and follows in a wide variety of areas in their life. And it also does not matter how many years of experience you have, or what your title is, you can always improve your communication skills. And I’d argue that you have to, because the rest of the world is not always dedicated at improving theirs.
Brett Bartholomew 00:46
Now, let me be specific about some of these contexts and nothing’s ambiguous. And so that you know, and can see how this relates to your every day. One is just managing messaging across your team, you know, when you’re communicating with your colleagues, clients, team members, however, whatever nomenclature you use, it’s always important to be direct and clear on your message. But you also have to balance being respectful of other people’s feelings and perspectives.
Brett Bartholomew 01:09
Number two is problem solving. Right? Like when you’re working to solve a problem, it’s important to be direct and honest about those issues, you have to be real, you don’t want to sugarcoat things. But once again, you also have to be respectful of other people’s opinions and ideas, even if some of them drive you crazy, or show a lack of just clear critical thought, decision making is another application. Straight forward. Here, it’s important to be direct and assertive, you know, you have to be able to say, Hey, this is the direction that we’re going to take, this is why we’re going to take it, I appreciate your input. And I’ve considered these variables. But we’re moving forward here.
Brett Bartholomew 01:45
And there’s a lot of different ways you can phrase these things, right. We’re gonna get into this in a moment, performance evaluations, conflict resolution delegation, there’s a lot of areas that this is important. Now, while we’re not going to be able to cover all of these in book level detail on the podcast, we are going to be speaking to general best practices when walking the line being between being direct, yet respectful, so that we can be more effective in these situations. And I want to be honest, and give credit where credit is due inspiration came for this episode, from a question that was asked within our private community, which if you haven’t checked it out, be sure to do so at artofcoaching.com/community, we made this because it complements the podcast in some really extraordinary ways. And you’re gonna get access to a wide array of video, case studies, analysis on topics related to leadership, coaching, management and the like. And you’re also going to benefit from seeing the perspectives of others within it.
Brett Bartholomew 02:40
But I think one of the biggest benefits is we all know people have different learning preferences. Some people like watching videos, some people like audio, some people like reading texts. So if you use our community, again, at artofcoaching.com/community. in congruence with the podcast and our other resources, you’re really getting a nice holistic spectrum of those learning prep that address a lot of different learning preferences, which help you better utilize the information.
Brett Bartholomew 03:07
Okay, so I’m gonna make up the name to protect the privacy of our member. I’ll just call her Beth. But she had essentially asked like, how do I be blunt yet respectful, that like, how can I say what needs to be said, but in a respectful manner? Now more specifically, the phrasing was in and we had asked them, hey, what do you want to learn more about what can we put in this community so that you get more benefit out of it.
Brett Bartholomew 03:30
And she had just said, just blunt honesty, through thoughtful and respectful delivery, saying what needs to be said so that it’s effective for both the communicator and receiver, and then you know, being able to stick to boundaries, even though sometimes, you know, I’m tempted to go all out and, and be a little bit more blunt.
Brett Bartholomew 03:47
So let’s dissect this a bit. Now, first, a disclaimer has to be said, advice on this is going to change in accordance with context and specificity. So whenever you guys are reaching out or talking to us, the more details and clear examples of the pain point you can provide, the better answer we can give. But I always still want to share some thoughts. It just always does remind me that you know, during my time as a strength coach, you’d get all these questions about all what’s the best program for this, what should I do if my niece is a soccer player? And there’s so many intricacies to that well, do they have medical history? Do they have a torn ACL? You know, did they get a lot of sleep like Where where are we with all these variables? It’s like asking a doctor to just give you a prescription for something vague. So I know most of you know this, we just always want to share that disclaimer because there’s tremendous cultural context, historical context and various other forms of context that shaped this.
Brett Bartholomew 04:41
So being blunt and respectful is certainly challenging, and it is going to depend on the other party’s interpretation of both. You know what somebody in one culture and in one context deems to be respectful or blunt, will vary man and I’ve talked about this example before when we were running a workshop in the UK Hey, well in Wales more specifically, we were doing some role playing because role playing is critical if you want to get feedback on communication styles delivery and, and be just overall exposed to more real life leadership challenges, and there was a woman, they’re tremendously insightful, tremendously knowledgeable, but essentially wanted to work on being more assertive. So we went through a role playing scenario, I won’t go too in depth here, I don’t want to bore you. But at the end of the, at the end of it, you know, she scored herself other people scored her. And, you know, she, she scored herself a three, which in the context of our workshop was, hey, I believe in accordance with what I was trying to achieve. I was very effective, very direct, very clear at that. Another person said, No, I’d give you a one. Now that individual was from Spain, and they had a different cultural representation. And remember, cultural isn’t just just purely geographic, like, Hey, anybody from Spain thinks this way, cultural can be his own local context, as well. So you know, his cultural context, and views on that could be related to how he was brought up in a certain household in Spain. But he essentially said, I thought you were a one, I didn’t think you were very assertive.
Brett Bartholomew 06:09
So that’s just an example of how we need to balance those things. And it comes down to a matter of human perception, right, which is how we interpret our sensory oriented experiences and our emotions. And while we can’t control how everybody perceives these things, we can manage it, I just want to make it clear that what we’re after is trying to manage their perception. And to do so we of course, have to manage our delivery. I’ll say that, again, to manage perception, you have to focus on managing your delivery, environment, timing, and countless other factors. This is why we at Art of Coaching are also very assertive in telling many of you that while listening to the podcasts, and reading books, and things like that are great, they can help you. Nothing helps you more than getting in there and practicing it real time, which is my hard pitch and final hard pitch of attending our apprenticeship workshop.
Brett Bartholomew 07:01
So let’s look at delivery oriented strategies here, one, and even if you’ve heard these before, please just challenge yourself to make sure that you do it. Because sometimes you can hear stuff. And you think, ah, yeah, that’s obvious. But if you actually audited your behaviors, you’d find you didn’t do it. And I know you didn’t do it, because I study this stuff for a living. This is our expertise. And even I failed to do this stuff plenty of times, right. So you can always get better use I statements to express your own thoughts and your feelings rather than accusing or always blaming the other person.
Brett Bartholomew 07:35
So for example, you could say, I think it would be more effective. If we could brainstorm together, before we make a decision, it’s gonna allow us to have a better outcome. Or you could say, I feel like you’re tuning me out or not taking what I’m saying, seriously, when you’re checking your phone, when I’m trying to connect or have a conversation with you. You could also say I would appreciate if you could give me more information. When you’re delegating tasks, it would really help me understand the expectations more clearly.
Brett Bartholomew 08:03
Now, you’ve noticed a few things there. I think I feel there’s some hedging statements. There’s some qualifiers I’m not using absolute statements. I’m not saying you’re always tuning me out, I said, I feel like you’re tuning me out. I’m not saying it would definitely be more effective. If we could brainstorm together, it’s I think we could. So you do want to use I think I feel it seems as if these things are important. And I’d encourage you, you know, in you have to get permission in certain contexts to record yourself when you’re doing this, because it’s really tricky to do it. We can forget this, we get so caught up in just wanting to get things done, and not wanting to have to finesse and mold our words.
Brett Bartholomew 08:47
But then in all irony, it just comes back and bites us in the butt. If we don’t do we do those things. Right. So not only are using some hedging statements and qualifiers, softening language, but you know, you also want to just be very clear and specific in your feedback, avoiding too many generalizations, too many exaggerations, because then it can really, really, really go off the rails. When you are trying to be direct with somebody or blunt. You want that to come off as feedback, you know, feedback to help her reach a utilitarian in, a better a better result for both parties. You don’t want it to come across as an ultimatum or a demand. All right.
Brett Bartholomew 09:27
Another critical aspect comes down to how we manage the Para verbals as well as our kinesics. Now we’re going to do a whole podcast episode on nonverbals. And we’ll talk about para verbals as well, but a lot of people get nonverbals very wrong and they think they’re a lot more simple than than they are. But regardless, I’m just saying you want to be aware of the tone of voice and the body language you’re using. You want to use a calm or at the very least calmer, calmer for you like a neutral tone and maintain eye contact. This is something I always have to work on. because my voice projects, my voice is pretty stern my voice can be cutting. And so even if I am calm, it can come across as abrasive. And sometimes even when I’ve tried to tone my tone down, sorry for that redundancy there, people can perceive me as more aggressive, which has been odd to me, you know, I can actually work on being quieter, and, and more, what’s the word I want to look for not reserved, but a little bit more. Yeah, I would just say toning it back a little bit. And people actually think I’m more angry at them. So you’re gonna have to mess with this a little bit.
Brett Bartholomew 10:35
Act like you’re an actor, actress, and you’re trying to play a certain character, you know, because sometimes being calm can come off as menacing. But you know, you you know what that is for you. Now, when it comes to eye contact, you also need to be mindful that we’re not telling you to stare them down, a lot of folks are really odd with the eye contact advice, they make it sound like you just need to be staring at somebody the entire time, averting eye contact can be tremendously impactful and effective.
Brett Bartholomew 11:05
Because sometimes if you’re just staring at somebody, they’re going to perceive you as a threat. You don’t need to lock eyes with somebody, regardless of what so many of these books tell you.
Brett Bartholomew 11:14
It’s not about locking eyes, it’s about letting them know you’re locked in, I’ll say that, again, it’s not about locking eyes beyond a point, it’s about letting them know you’re locked in. And you take this seriously. Alright, so be mindful of that as well. If you want to practice in front of a mirror, practice in front of the mirror, if you want to practice in front of a camera, do it in front of a camera, if you don’t want to practice at all, that’s fine. But you know, it is important. And that’s why once again, we’re big advocates of of roleplay.
Brett Bartholomew 11:41
Another thing and it can be done, but still very difficult, is to listen actively. And just make sure that you’re signifying that you are actually open to the other person’s perspective. You know, and you do this by ensuring that you’re not being dismissive or derogatory, when they’re speaking. And this doesn’t always come down to looking like you’re aggressive, so stay with me. Of course, you don’t want to shut them down immediately. And you don’t want to just interject constantly. But there are also passive aggressive facial expressions, people can use the person that looks at me, and uh, one thing that just really gets me going, is if I’m talking and I’m in a conflict with somebody or whatever, and they’re just kind of sitting there like, Mm hmm, and nodding their head head and raising their eyebrows. Almost as if they’ve read some book by some therapists. You know, it just looks like they’re degrading and downplaying it. And they’re this detached therapists.
Brett Bartholomew 12:38
So when we hear about listening and listening actively and being open to the other person’s perspective, we often go right to well, don’t interrupt, don’t interject, don’t shut them down. But also just make sure you’re not looking at them as if there’s some like cretin, or as if you’re trying to placate them, because we all know what that experience is, like, we all have talked to somebody in our life, who, you know, they say they’re trying to help. But really, they’re, they’re almost like passive aggressively making us feel as if we’re less than, or that they’re above us by almost acting too much like this cold HR representative, you know, and they give the appearance like they’re listening. It’s like they’ve knocked out all the verbal and nonverbal signifiers they’ve been told to do, but it still doesn’t seem genuine. And these are things that we have to work on, which is once again, why you want to roleplay because we’ve had plenty of people at our workshops and say, I’ve been told I come across as detached and not genuine, but are disingenuous, but I really, I really am.
Brett Bartholomew 13:38
Well, when you when you’re able to roleplay with four or five people that can give you specific details as to why you’re coming off like that, and then allow you to go practice that, that really helps build that skill set. So keep that in mind.
Brett Bartholomew 13:52
Now, you also want to remember that within the same context of this advice, you know, even if you disagree with them, which is very normal, it’s fine. You’re not always going to be able even if you seek to understand at the highest level, you’re not always going to a degree agree, it’s important to just acknowledge and validate their feelings, you know, or there’s no chance in hell, they’re going to do the same thing for you. So you can not agree with somebody be like, hey, like, I don’t agree. I do understand how you could think that way that is plausible, for sure. But here’s why I don’t agree. But if you’ve just cut them off, don’t expect them to give a shit why why you don’t agree or your perspective as well. validate that and and this doesn’t even have to be in conflict situations.
Brett Bartholomew 14:33
You know, like we said the beginning, I have a one to one mentoring client that I’m working with. And she was talking about how you know, one thing that she struggles with, in some of her interactions with family or some other people that she really cares about is sometimes it can feel like all or nothing. She really wants to say the right thing in the moment she wants. She puts so much pressure on herself. And it’s almost like Do or die for me to just be able to say hey, That’s a valid feeling, you know, I can understand given the your past history with your family and in these situations, why you’d feel that way. So let’s, let’s not act like that’s completely irrational, it’s not, but here’s what we can do about it. That’s a really easy way to be able to acknowledge somebody’s feelings, you know, and then be able to continue to get back on course.
Brett Bartholomew 15:20
Okay, so let’s go on to another piece. Always, always consider the timing and context before giving feedback or you know, going to be whatever that the the situation is, where you’re trying to be direct timing is everything, when it comes to your effectiveness at delivering a message, and how they’re likely to receive that message. Now, think of it this from two’s perspectives, when you’re trying to walk this line between being blunt, direct, whatever phrase you want to use and respectful as it pertains to you as timing pertains to you. If you’re not relatively calm, or composed, or at least focused, it’s more likely your message is going to get muddled. Now I understand that you don’t always get the benefit of that. So realize that you will have to work harder at regulating your emotions, if you have to address it when you’re infuriated. This is why some of you have reached out. And so that’s why we use improv that literally like very almost like adapted theater games, Whose Line Is It Anyway, in private, some of our workshops, it’s because they bring up so many different conflicting emotions and levels of you know, some people are incredibly composed, under, you know, direct real life role playing situations. But when they’re put into the abstract, and they have to do improv stuff, where they may feel silly, they may feel stupid, by creating an environment where their emotions are conflicting with, you know, so many other things, you’re putting them in the situation where they’re having to adapt out of their comfort zone. And it’s overload, it’s no different than when I would get athletes stronger by applying steady overload on the bar or making them do things that challenge their physiology and their biomechanical position. So it’s another way that improv and role playing can really help with that.
Brett Bartholomew 17:10
Now, just to give you some context, because I always like to expose myself here to and show you how imperfect I am, because I just think that’s important. You know, there are a million times I think I should record a podcast on this today, I should do that. And then I think about, you know what, I am so distracted by so many other things in my day, or I have a tight deadline, or maybe I just came back from traveling or just something as simple as the other day my back like I slept weird. And so I could not sit or stand without this searing pain that I know was impacting my ability to focus. All right, just wasn’t the time to record that podcast, you know. Now, other times, I gotta put it out, and it is what it is. And that’s where you have to deal with kind of your own inherent perfectionism. And we’ll have a whole episode on that as well. But I just want to make sure I address that.
Brett Bartholomew 17:59
Now timing as it pertains to them, and how that can impact their perception. Because remember, that’s what a lot of this is about. If you come at somebody, when they’re stressed, when they’re overwhelmed, or they haven’t had enough sleep, well, what do you expect, there’s no advice myself, or anybody could give you on how to more eloquently and strategically craft your message that is going to hit home, you know, you’re likely just not going to have a willing audience if you come at them under those circumstances. And the quality and the reception of your intended message is just going to decay further, you know, you so that is just something you need to be mindful of.
Brett Bartholomew 18:37
Now, one more piece, and there’s so many we can get into but I just want to give you everybody a taster. And then we can do follow up episodes if you’d like. Remember, you can always reach out at artofcoaching.com/question. Be mindful of the setting, in my online course, Bought In. And in so many of our other resources we talked about there’s four huge critical factors that influence human behavior, aside from how you communicate, is the drives of other people. And we have a previous episode on that. So check that out, I’ll make sure it’s in the show notes. It is the environment, whether that’s the physical environment, the perceived environment, anything like that, it is timing, it is social agents, other people who are involved and might be whispering in their ear and influencing them. So when we’re talking about being mindful of the setting, that is environment and in these all interact, so if you do this in public or in front of others in any capacity other social agents, well that’s gonna have a far different impact than than doing it in a private setting doing it meaning whatever you know your context or goal is with respect to being direct if it is providing them feedback, if it is hashing something out, but you know, you want to do that in a private setting. Nobody wants to feel singled out amongst their peers, even if they need to be so tread carefully. It doesn’t mean you can’t call somebody out in the meeting, I told you, there’s a lot of ways these things can go, we’re just giving you some basic principles, that if you have the choice, you find a way to meet with them one on one, you’d be mindful of the environment. And he’d be mindful of the timing. That’s what I’m telling you. And then just ask yourself, also, if you’re the best one to deliver the message, and maybe you are, but this just comes down once again, to the use of different social agents, as I mentioned, in our courses, you know, if, if you it is not always going to be the message, but it’s going to be the messenger.
Brett Bartholomew 20:33
And we talked about this in relation to power dynamics is a coalition tactic. There are some times it’s more effective to have others deliver that message, maybe somebody else has a better relationship with that individual, maybe there’s somebody else that they perceive as less threatening, maybe you’ve come down on them a number of times, and they’ve just tuned it out. So now it needs to come from that my wife, and I talk about this a lot. I say, Hey, I have no trouble being the bad guy in the context of our business, or a lot of other situations. But there’s going to be a limit to the effectiveness of that, you know, so whether it’s her or other members of my staff, other people have to step up. And other people always have to find ways to Hey, how can I call this person out? Respectfully, how can I address this, because you’re not always going to be the best person to deliver that message. Point blank. Think about those things.
Brett Bartholomew 21:28
Now, we can thank you can you can ask you to say hey, well, are there any other examples? You know, what else could I do? I’m gonna tell you this. Just try to master an audit those ones first. You know, you don’t want to sit here and say like, Okay, give me a million? Sure. I could say we’ll use humor when appropriate, you know, be open to their feedback, try to avoid making personal attacks. But you know, write down your word, there’s a million things I could give you. But can we just focus on the basics right now? Uh, you know, I didn’t, the one thing we never want to do is just say, hey, here’s a positive and constructive approach.
Brett Bartholomew 22:05
No, we want to give you direct stuff, but you have got to work on that, you have got to make sure that you’re utilizing those things. And that you are just thinking about that strategically. So once again, if you like this, please stay tuned and subscribe share with friends, I would implore you consider joining our private community at artofcoaching.com/community. Remember, using both using a holistic, just cornucopia of our resources is going to help you stay current with industry trends and developments. Get a deeper understanding of the subject matter network with other professionals get more diverse feedback and support. It’s going to enhance anytime that you can participate in a community and open yourself to an access a broader wealth, a broader wealth of knowledge and resources, you’re going to enhance your professional development.
Brett Bartholomew 22:56
And most importantly, we want you to share your own ideas and experiences. You know, we never want to talk at you. We want to hear from you. So we’d love to get feedback from you. We’d love to learn from you. And you can do that within the community. All right, until next time for myself and the rest of us at The Art of coaching team. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I will talk to you soon
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