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How To Communicate Clearly & Directly (Without Coming Off As Rude)

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male and female colleagues walking and talking

It is possible for you to communicate clearly and directly without seeming rude. This is true in meetings, one-to-one feedback conversations and written communications.

Often, people feel if they try to be polite they will come off as weak or somehow fake. 

But you truly can do this politely, without becoming less of your authentic self. You can still come off as a strong leader.

Below are some tips from a communications professional and leadership coach on how to be direct and provide clarity — while silencing your inner critic and without coming off as rude.

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People value clear communication, and being wishy-washy in the name of kindness is not actually helpful.

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.

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Being clear shows respect when you're leading meetings or giving feedback

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. While you show respect to the person or persons you're communicating with by being direct, you also can reach them more effectively by delivering your message in a calm, kind manner.

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Fourteen ways to communicate directly without seeming rude

1. Ask if someone wants to listen (or read)

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.

2. 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.”

3. Explain the impact

“Several people in the audience lost interest and started checking their phones. It made it seem like you lacked confidence.”

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4. 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.

5. 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.”

6. 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.

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7. Use a clear email subject line

Before you craft your message, 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."

8. Get to the point

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:

“Hi Sharon,

Please review and sign the attached contract by 4pm Friday.” From there, you can explain the reasoning:

9. 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."

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10. 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.” And don't forget to say thank you!

11. Ask 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.

12. Seek a firm commitment and clear deadline

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.

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13. Ask for an example

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?”

14. Don't settle for ambiguity

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

Hi Susan,

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.

Thanks, Eileen”

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Keep clarity and understanding at the center of your goal

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, polite 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.

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Brent Roy, PCC, CMC, is a certified career, communications effectiveness and personal development coach. More information is available on his website

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