Like many children are taught, I was instructed to be polite. I should manage my words so that I could show respect and courtesy to others.
Unfortunately, doing what we “should” do can sometimes cause more disharmony than harmony.
Miscommunication happens when we don’t say what we mean, which can often happen out of our desire to be polite. We mask our true feelings and intentions which could stem from fear, avoidance, or habit. This is especially true when we are at work. Somehow we rationalize to ourselves that our jobs are at stake, so we can’t ever express any of our true feelings! It’s a real shame that we spend 40 hours a week living so fearfully! How can we be surprised when no one understands what we’re saying!
Something as simple as, “Come drop by my house anytime!” can lead to big misunderstandings. When people say that, do they really mean that they want to have me over for dinner on Sunday? Probably not.
I have little energy to spend on being indirect and polite in situations where I need to be direct, so I kicked that habit long ago. It might not be your thing, but I’ve found life to be so much easier when everyone says what they mean.
Here are my tips on how to be direct:
- Use clear and precise words. Don’t let anything be ambiguous. For example, “It’s me, not you” might sound like an inoffensive break up line, but believe it or not, it leaves room for hope! That person might think that you’re just going through something that’s temporary. He/she may still be waiting for you to come around! This line is overused and indirect. If you’re not into someone, just say, “I am not interested in you.” Isn’t that the truth?
- Keep it simple. The more words you throw in the mix, the higher probability you’ll have for misinterpretation! Get straight to the point.
- Be mindful of your tone/body language: It’s been said that communication is done 70% with body language, 23% with tone, and only 7% by words! Be aware of how you’re saying what you’re saying. If you want someone to take your message seriously, saying it casually over a few beers won’t do the job!
- Don’t delay. If you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, don’t wait around for a “good time.” There’s NEVER a good time for bad news. The longer you wait, the worse it’s going to make YOU feel. Why bottle things up when you can just get it out in the open? If you wait too long, fear will keep growing until it turns into something more damaging, like resentment! When you finally do have that conversation, you won’t be able to hear what anyone else has to say. It will be too overwhelming. A friend once asked me for a BIG favor. I said “yes” out of politeness. I brooded about it for a day. I was upset, confused, and resentful that she would even ask me for such a favor. Had I said no in the beginning, I wouldn’t have had to suffer! I called her the next morning and apologized for saying yes to something I wasn’t ready to do. As much as I let her down, she accepted my decision. I was relieved, happy, and free!
Being direct doesn’t mean that you have to be mean or rude. It also doesn’t mean that you have to be direct about everything! Directness just has to do with expressing your opinion when it’s important to do so.