Leadership and the Direct Lie

“May I be direct?” asks an unsuspecting leader…

“Please do,” says almost everyone.

Don’t fall for it–they’re lying.

Now, I don’t mean it’s malicious, or even intentional. But make no mistake, most–the vast majority–of people who claim to appreciate directness… don’t. Or probably better stated, are simply not wired correctly to appreciate the brevity, succinctness, and well, directness of truly direct feedback or language.

This matters to leaders. Or at least it should. Our objective when communicating, particularly when giving feedback as a leader, is to influence or even change behavior. To do this, we must connect in a way that the recipient of our feedback can accept.

Here’s a couple things to consider:

1. If you feel you must be “direct” (as we know the word), then watch the person for verbal cues of discomfort. Slight wincing, eye-shifting, deep breaths, all could mean that your message, though understood, may not be well-received. Listen for immediate responses that may disagree or push back on your position without any logic or factual rationale. These can point to a more emotional response (vs. logical), and you’ll need to “clean up” your earlier communication.

2. Check for understanding. Make sure the recipient of the feedback is really on board. Ask them if there are areas of concern, or if you should rephrase it a bit to be more clear. If you frequently hear people asking you to rephrase your direct message, it’s likely not because your messaging is vague, ambiguous, or difficult to understand; it’s probably just hard to accept or internalize (see my lying comment above).

Like it or not, our being direct frequently comes across as harsh or uncaring. It’s not enough to simply ask if “direct” is okay, we’ve got to stick around and make certain–our ability to influence and/or change is dependent on it.

But that’s just me…


Kevin Berchelmann

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