Do you go around the houses or beat about the bush?
It’s important to be able to be direct and at times it’s crucial. There you are, I’m being direct with you. It’s got your attention, you know what I’m saying and it’s a key piece to being a clear, confident communicator.
We’ll start with the ‘why’ of being direct first. I’ll be direct with you – and, being direct is very different from being rude. That’s the key.
Many people struggle with saying what has to be said. They ‘beat about the bush’; chatting about everything but what they actually want to say. We can feel they’re struggling and the longer it goes on the harder it is for them to say what has to be said.
More often than not, when someone’s direct with you, it’s actually a relief. You understand what they’re saying, you’re able to decide whether to take the information or their opinion and you can keep moving.
I believe struggling with being direct is two-fold. Firstly it stems from fear; a primal fear of rejection at the root of being unable to be direct. Putting an opinion or instruction out and either hurting someone’s feelings or being seen to be ‘wrong’ is scary.
The struggle is both about fear and thinking that you have to please everyone all the time. The trick is to be able to respect the other person’s position or viewpoint and still be able to put across yours.
‘This is going off-track. We have to get those expenses down otherwise all the budgets will be blown’. This two-sentence, direct opinion has given us everything we need to understand that something’s going wrong, there’s a direct action and the consequence is laid out for us if we leave things. We may not like the message, it may not be strictly true but at least we know what the other person is thinking.
These two direct sentences could have gone like this and, in many meetings I’ve sat through, they have: ‘Well, we’ve got to be careful to understand how exactly the numbers are all adding up at the moment. We’ve said it before and it’s time to say it again. If we aren’t very strict with ourselves and what we’re spending then the whole project could be jeopardised and then we might all be at risk of being told the budgets have been blown and then who knows where we’ll be.’ Phew, we got there. It was painful and ‘clunky’ to get there and – if they held our attention on to the end of it – the importance of the message has been severely diluted.
Can you see in the second version that as well as diluting the message, there’s also a real danger of both confusing and, crucially, boring your audience? You want their attention not for them to start tuning out. Most people actually want your opinion and can then choose whether they take it on, or not. Just as you can choose whether you take someone else’s opinion too.
Here’s a handy formula for you to make it easier and more comfortable to be direct.
Your opinion + Your reason + Offer a solution.
- That colour is a bit drab on you (opinion)
- You look lovely in blue (solution)
- It brings out the colour of your eyes (reason)
- This is going off-track. (opinion)
- We have to get those expenses down (solution)
- otherwise all the budgets will be blown (reason)
It’s less about the order you express yourself and more about having these key components in there.
Opinion + Reason + Solution = Usefully Direct.
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