You’re pressed for time and have a zillion emails sitting in your inbox. You also need to send your boss the weekly sales report ASAP. You quickly shoot a message to your team:
Please send me your individual sales numbers for this week. I need them pronto, no later than 10 am.
Your work BFF later says she saw the message, and thought it was a tad rude.
You don’t agree with her assessment, but the feedback is not entirely new. Last week, during a brainstorm meeting, someone pitched an idea you thought would never work. You said: “Your idea isn’t going to work because of X, Y, and Z. You haven’t considered those roadblocks. I highly recommend we go in another direction.” Afterward, your manager said that you came across a little too strong.
Even your intern once said that your communication style is frustrating. That confused you because you value clarity and try to be direct.
Do any of these scenarios resonate with you?
Many people are great at “telling it like it is” and may even find pride in doing so. If you’re one of them, this communication style has likely worked well throughout your education and career. You’ve probably found it’s an efficient way to get things done sans all the fluff and small talk. When you have a problem to solve, why beat around the bush?
You’re not wrong. “Telling it like it is” can be a big asset, especially for people leading teams. It’s best not to camouflage critical feedback, provide people with vague guidance, or set unclear expectations. Clearly communicating what you want and need from your people, and why, makes everything more efficient. The issue arises when leaders toe the line between being direct and being abrasive. This can be incredibly difficult for new managers, who are trying to show authority while also forming a trusting relationship with their team.
Here’s the thing: If you come across too harshly, you can end up doing more harm than good, and irrevocably damage your relationships and the opportunity for positive collaboration. When you move from honesty to inconsideration, people end up feeling frustrated and hurt, leading to a disengaged and demotivated team who doesn’t respect, like, or trust you.
So, how do you find a healthy balance? How do you be honest, direct, compassionate, kind, and clear — all at the same time?
Here are some simple strategies you can use to make your point without being disrespectful.