How To Communicate Clearly & Directly (Without Coming Off as Rude)
It is possible for you to communicate clearly and directly without seeming rude. And you can do this without becoming less of your authentic self. This is true in meetings, one-to-one feedback conversations and in your written communications.
People Value Clear Communication
There are many communication opportunities in our daily interactions at work. Communicating clearly and directly removes uncertainty, making our conversations and follow-ups more productive.
Have you ever sat through a long planning meeting and walked away without a clear plan of action? Haven’t we all. No one likes that anxious feeling of ambiguity that leaves one wondering who is doing what and by when. In fact, when coupled with the general uncertainty of your organization’s direction, research shows ambiguity can lead to reduced performance and burnout.
Many people feel uncomfortable with being too direct. They want to seem nice and agreeable at the office. But which is more uncomfortable for you…being direct or feeling uncertain about what is expected of you?
The fact is, communicating nicely but with directness is a form of respecting your boundaries.
There are very simple practices for meeting attendees to help you speak more clearly and to elicit clear commitments without coming off as rude.
When Leading Meetings
You’re in charge and everyone else wants you to clarify expectations. It’s important for you to state the objective of the meeting, have a clear agenda, an idea of the outcome you’re shooting for and a clear plan of action with delegates and deadlines. Everyone will thank you for your directness and for effectively assuming the role of meeting host.
Another opportunity to communicate directly without coming off as rude is when providing feedback. Here is a structure to follow to ensure you provide effective feedback.
First, ask the recipient whether they’re ready to receive it. You could start with, “Hey, Amanda. Are you open for some quick feedback?” If they say yes, then proceed.
Make a Specific Observation
“You could be better at presenting” is of little value. Instead, point to a recent example. “In your presentation today, I noticed you barely made eye contact with the audience.”
Explain the Impact
“Several people in the audience lost interest and started checking their phones. It made it seem like you lacked confidence.”
Wait for the Reaction
You might ask, “was that your experience as well?” They may or may not have experienced it the way you did.
Suggest Action Steps
Don’t overwhelm them, but a direct action step will help them in future similar situations, “You might want to try standing at the podium rather than sitting behind your laptop. It makes you look more confident.”
Communicate Clearly By Email
If your goal is to be more direct, ask whether email is the best tool for your message. Research shows in-person requests are much more likely to be successful.
If you must use email, put yourself in the perspective of the receiver. Chances are good that your email is one of possibly hundreds filling up the recipient’s inbox. With that in mind, you’ll want to get to your point quickly, especially if you need a reply.
Clear Subject Line
First, carefully choose an appropriate subject line to inform the recipient of its purpose. It could range from, “Urgent Action Required” to “Non-Urgent: For Your Information”.
Get to the Point Quickly
Don’t bury the lead. Communicate clearly your call to action at the front and save the niceties for the end of your short message. For example:
Please review and sign the attached contract by 4pm Friday.” From there, you can explain the reasoning:
Add Some Details
“The client called yesterday and they really want to move forward a week earlier than we all thought. They said their materials came in earlier than expected and they want to get the ball rolling to get an edge on the new competitor.’
Sprinkle in the Niceties
“I know this is last minute, but it’s a good sign they want to stay with us. I hope your week has been going well. See you at the meeting on Monday!–Steve.”
Asking for Clarification
When you’re a meeting participant, an email recipient or on the receiving end of feedback, you want to be sure you understand. If you’re unclear, it’s up to you to ask the one giving the message to clearly communicate their intentions.
In or After a Meeting
If the meeting host is hesitant to be direct, you have an obligation to seek out the clarity you need, as long as you’re respecting other attendees.
You might say, for example, “I want to ensure I’m clear on what is expected of me. In order to keep this project rolling, by when would you need me to complete the first draft of the proposal?”
Do your best to elicit a firm commitment for a clear deadline. Any other details could be hashed out after the meeting.
When Receiving Feedback
If you’re the recipient of feedback that was less explicit than the previous examples, don’t be afraid to ask for clear direction.
“Could you give me an example of when I didn’t seem confident? What was the impact on you and the others there? What’s one action step you could suggest to help me in the future?”
When Receiving an Unclear Email
When an unclear email from your boss arrives on Friday afternoon, it’s better to seek more clarity Friday rather than stew in ambiguity all weekend. If the email doesn’t state what to do and by when, you need to ask for more information. For example:
“SUBJECT: Please Confirm Action Steps and Deadline
I wanted to be clear you were referring to the IT project I am working on with David. If that’s the case, we plan to have the first milestone completed by Tuesday, November 1.
Please advise if you had something else in mind.
We live in a world of uncertainty, influenced by many factors we cannot control. Rather than throw up our arms in resignation, we can take control of removing some of the ambiguity in our work lives. Clear communication that requests an action, a delegate and a deadline is the perfect place to begin.
By clearly and directly asking for that information with a smile, you reduce the anxiety that ambiguity can cause. For that, your listeners will thank you!
Resources You’ll Love
- 3 Ways to Be Direct (Without Being Rude)
- 8 Tips On Direct Communication For Those Who Were Called “Too Direct”
- 6 Effective Tips to Politely Say No (that actually work!)
- How to be both direct and polite
- 5 Ways You Can Be More Direct In An Email (And Get The Answers You Need)
Brent Roy, PCC, CMC, is a certified career, communications effectiveness and personal development coach. I can help you enhance your executive presence by helping you to nail your next presentation. For more ways I can help, reach out to me.
I originally wrote this article for YourTango, published November 5, 2022 as “How To Communicate Clearly & Directly (Without Coming Off As Rude)” and was also published on MSN.