Let’s be blunt. Generalization or not, while men’s bluntness is often perceived as confidence, women’s bluntness has been unfairly characterized as aggressive or rude. Perhaps this is one reason why, according to research, women tend to soften their demands and statements, whereas men tend to be more direct.
Yet, these modifications don’t always serve the end goal. Standing up for yourself, addressing injustices, saying no, and selling one’s ideas require blunt confidence that isn’t perceived as rude. Here are seven strategies to be blunt without coming across as rude.
Proceed with empathy
Empathy is the ability to stand in the shoes of your listeners before you speak. It also allows you to state the facts bluntly without alienating your listeners. In the words of Stephen Covey, “When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”
Invite bluntness from others
Model what it’s like to receive truth without getting defensive. You’ll build trust and earn your right to be blunt. A statement like, “I expect you to be as blunt with me as I’ll be with you” goes a long way.
Be succinct and concrete
Practice getting to the point quickly and concretely by removing vague or emotionally charged language. For example, instead of saying, “Listen, Sylvia, I don’t know what your problem is…” say, “Sylvia, I sense friction between us, and I’d like us to get to the bottom of it so we can achieve our goals faster.”
Bridge understanding gaps
“What are your thoughts?” is a simple question that can serve as a bridge between a blunt statement and an invitation for the other person to enter the conversation.
Get comfortable with saying “No”
If you have the wrong relationship with the word “No,” you’ll come across as emotional or rude when you must refuse a request. Practice saying, “No,” “No thank you,” or “No, that won’t work” nicely, without long explanations.
If you are coming across as rude rather than confident, chances are that either your tone of voice or body language is sending the wrong message. Practice your communication recording yourself. When you listen to or watch the playback, you’ll catch what others perceive and you’ll become your most helpful critic.
You may have heard that perception becomes reality. When your facial expression comes across as harsh, the words you speak will be colored by what your audience sees. I agree with Les Brown when he says that “Your smile will give you a positive countenance that will make people feel comfortable around you.”
Bottom Line: You will not always be able to avoid how other people interpret your bluntness, but you can control your ability to communicate more confidently and effectively. If you lead with empathy, you won’t have to worry about being or coming across as rude.
Tanner, Barbara. You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation