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I grew up in one of those obnoxiously loud families who believes you need to say exactly what’s on your mind--without giving any thought to how it might make others feel. Honestly, don’t go shopping with my mother unless you’re prepared to hear an unashamed, "That looks absolutely terrible on you!" as soon as you open the dressing room door.

Even though there have been times I wished my family was a little less honest, I think there’s a lot to be said for utilizing a direct communication style in the office. It saves time and helps to cut down on any confusion resulting from unclear instructions.

But, if you’re part of a workplace that has become accustomed to beating around the bush, being straightforward and frank likely isn’t viewed as such a positive thing. In fact, it can easily become synonymous with brash and aggressive.

What if you want the best of both worlds? Is there a way that you can you get your point across honestly and efficiently, without causing your co-worker to burst into tears? Spoiler alert: There is. Here are a few tips and strategies you’ll need to be direct, without coming off like a complete jerk.

1. Listen

It’s easy to perceive direct people as total conversation steamrollers. However, that’s not always the case. If you’re someone who’s typically more frank, it’s important to remember your true intent behind being that blunt--you’re simply trying to express your opinions clearly and efficiently, without wasting time on fluff, pleasantries, and ego preservation.

So, if your aim is to keep conversations concise and unambiguous, then it’s important that you remember to listen and genuinely consider other people’s thoughts. After all, it’s difficult to adequately and explicitly respond to a statement if you didn’t make the effort to actually contemplate those points. Plus, failing to be attentive because you were just waiting for your turn to talk is a surefire way to be seen as a bully.

2. Be Constructive

This is a big differentiator between a person who’s direct, and a person who’s aggressive. Just because you’re willing to put your thoughts and opinions out there without paying much mind to sugarcoating, doesn’t mean you’re entitled to point out all sorts of problems without presenting any solutions.

If you and your team are piecing together a report, saying something like, “This table of contents is a mess. It makes absolutely zero sense,” is direct, but it isn’t the least bit helpful. However, a statement like, “This table of contents doesn’t make sense to me. I think we should move Section B ahead of Section A to make it flow better,” shares your views, but also proposes a fix to the very problem you’re pointing out.

That element is important to not only avoid sounding mean and pushy, but also to be a valuable, contributing team member.

3. Comment on the Work, Not the Person

We’ve all dealt with people who just aren’t used to direct communication. They prefer when others pad their instructions and feedback with niceties-;in fact, they’ve come to expect that.

Needless to say, they likely won’t respond too favorably to your seemingly more aggressive style. And, while you don’t want to inject a bunch of wishy-washy language into your statements (because then you’re no longer being direct), it’s important that you appropriately target your comments.

To avoid being perceived as an attacker, you need to ensure that all of your comments address the work, process, or results--not that specific person. Instead of saying, “Your idea is asinine. It’ll never work,” try something like, “This method isn’t our best approach.”

Again, you’re still making your point. But, you’re doing so in a way that doesn’t feel like a personal attack on someone’s intelligence.

4. Watch Your Tone

You’ve heard it time and time again--your tone and nonverbal cues often say more than the words that are actually coming out of your mouth. So, it’s important that you’re conscious of both of these things.

Saying, “Psh, that’ll never work!” with an eye roll and a sharp, snarky tone is a lot different than saying, “Nope, that won’t work,” with a more pensive, soft quality to your voice.

Yes, the statements are essentially the same. But, the way you present them makes a world of difference. The former undoubtedly seems insulting--like you’re disgusted at just the thought. The latter? It shows that you actually gave the suggestion some consideration, before determining it wasn’t the best course of action.

5. Find Common Ground

I can understand your desire to be blunt--believe me, I’m the exact same way (I’ll blame my upbringing). But, just because you communicate well a certain way, doesn’t mean thateverybody does.

Yes, you might think that being straightforward is the best way to do things. But, remember that your ultimate goal should be to communicate with your co-workers and teammates effectively. And, some of them might never be able to adjust to your direct nature.

In those cases, it’s best to find some common ground between your different communication styles in order to strike a balance that sits well with everyone. Needing to tailor your approach might make you feel like you’re conceding and giving in to that sugarcoating trap. But, in the end, being a little flexible will serve to improve your group dynamic and make your conversations even more efficient.


Oftentimes, the idea of being direct becomes synonymous with being the hardheaded and aggressive office bully. But, that doesn’t need to be the case! It’s possible to be straightforward, without being mean.

If you’re someone who tends to be a little more blunt, try working these tips into your office conversations. Let me know how they work for you on Twitter!

 

Published on: Feb 12, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.