Telling it like it is” can be a big asset, especially for people leading teams. It’s best not to camouflage critical feedback, provide people with vague guidance, or set unclear expectations. Clearly communicating what you want and need from your people, and why, makes everything more efficient.

The issue arises when leaders toe the line between being direct and being abrasive. This can be incredibly difficult for new managers, who are trying to show authority while also forming a trusting relationship with their team. How do you find a healthy balance?

When giving feedback, focus on facts — not emotions. Facts are objective, while emotions are subjective. When you refer to facts, you remove your personal emotions from the conversation. Provide them with points of improvement and enter the conversation with the positive intention of helping them learn. Ensure that your comments address the work, process, or results—not that specific person.

When expressing an opinion, use “I” statements — not “you” statements. Nobody likes to be accused or told they’re wrong. When you speak in accusatory language or start every sentence with “you did this” or “you did that,” the conversation either shuts down or escalates because the receiver gets defensive. Instead of pointing fingers, use “I” statements when discussing your subjective opinions, or if you want to remain objective, refer to the work you’re discussing (as opposed to the person doing the work).

When turning someone down, turn a hard “no” into a soft “maybe.” When you’re neck deep in work and someone asks you for something, as a direct person, your instinct may be to clearly say “no” to the least important of these requests. But, if you’re too blunt, you will likely be perceived as someone who refuses to collaborate or provide others with much-needed guidance. Turn your hard no’s into soft maybe’s. Find the compassion to thoughtfully offer the requester an alternative that works better for you and your schedule.

When making a request, be considerate — not commanding. Many people plan out their day and know exactly what they’re going to do and how they’re going to tick things off of their to-do list. When you come in with a request, know that someone is going to have to make time for it. It’s okay to tell them exactly what you want but be considerate. Instead of coming across bossy, let them know you appreciate their time and help, while being clear about what you need help with.

Oftentimes, the idea of being direct becomes synonymous with being an aggressive office bully. That doesn’t need to be the case! You can be direct and honest without hurting other people’s feeling and maintaining a culture of kindness.


Harvard Business Review (2023, July 31) Yasmina Khelifi and Irina Cozma: How to Be Direct Without Being Rude
The Muse (2020, June 19) Kat Boogaard: 5 Keys to Be Blunt at Work – Without Sounding Like a Total Jerk