Coaching,  Communication,  EQ,  Executive Presence,  Leadership,  Stress Management

Direct Communication Doesn’t Have To Be Hurtful

Stuart, a mid-level leader at a corporate, came to me as he wanted to be more approachable. “I am very direct, but people take it negatively.” I want to influence without causing animosity.

Megan, a director at a non-profit, had difficulty giving corrective feedback; she worried the recipient might get hurt, so she used a long-winded way that often got lost in translation.

Stuart and Megan had limiting beliefs that direct and kind can’t happen simultaneously; you have to choose one or the other. But Brene Brown taught us,

“Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind”.

Brene Brown

The purpose of direct communication is to convey the message as clearly as possible to create the most impact. Kindness or compassion is a virtue that often becomes collateral in the process. 

Many have such a dilemma, so let’s look into this to understand better.

Myth 1: We think “Direct” communication is sharing unprocessed emotional reactions.

I found that Stuart got stressed when he saw a problem in his team’s work, so his reaction carried that stress. His “direct” communication was merely an exposure to unprocessed anxiety, which created an adverse reaction in the team’s morale and to him.  

I first helped him address the source of his stress. He assumed that he was the one who needed to fix the issues on top of his already overloaded schedule. As we unpacked, he learned that was not expected of him; his team wanted him to advise and guide. I also coached him to notice and regulate his emotions. Through practice, Stuart improved at managing his distressing emotions in such situations. As a result, he felt less distraught and could communicate more constructively.

Myth 2: We think “Kindness” is assuming responsibility for others without verifying.

Megan discovered that she was overly concerned about others’ feelings. She thought people would get hurt hearing that they did something subpar. When I challenged her, she found that her team wanted more regular feedback from her, both good and bad. I coached her on giving feedback honoring the receiver’s intention and helping them grow.

Even though both Stuart and Megan came from opposite sides of the challenge of direct communication, they both had limiting beliefs about what it meant to be direct. But when they shifted their beliefs and learned to deliver the messages with clarity and compassion, they helped others and felt more confident and happier.

Clear (direct) and compassionate (kind) are valuable character traits. But like any character trait, when we overdo, they become liabilities. So as leaders, our goal is a balanced development to increase positive influence on our teams and everyone around us.

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