"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 escape 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 bold, straightforward communication with bluntness.
Bold communication may involve breaking bad news on sensitive issues that might have high payoff value if the discussion is handled well and 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 regret it.
Timing: Bold communicators consider the best time--both emotional time and physical time--to bring up a sensitive topic. For example, they don't ask for a raise two weeks after a restructure. They don't schedule a negative performance feedback session with an employee two days after the employee's spouse has asked for a 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 bad news, directives, or preferences to others. Blunt communicators, on the other hand, allow their sour attitude to intensify otherwise neutral words and turn them into negatives.
Phrasing: Bold communicators select their persuasive words carefully. Blunt communicators let words just roll off the tongue with little or no thought. Their careless words may help or hinder the speaker's cause.
Outcome: Bold communicators tend to 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 reveals hostility. Boldness conveys hope. Bluntness shuts down dialogue. Boldness opens conversation. Bluntness sabotages resolution. Boldness encourages resolution.