Have you had a spate of recent interactions that have left you wondering if many of the employees and peers you work with on a daily basis are simply not paying attention? If you have traditionally employed a direct communication style, you might have unknowingly slipped into an offshoot that encompasses a more aggressive and blunt characteristic.
If longtime colleagues you have historically put your faith in are expressing their concern with your effect (or lack of effect) on the team’s morale, it should concern you enough to contemplate the possibility.
Have you noticed your comments and explanations becoming more and more abrupt? For many personality types, this can come across as anger directed at them. Do you find yourself tuning out valuable theories or helpful suggestions, only to discover, when you truly study it, that you have just been waiting for your chance to speak?
If you’re not even listening to your trusted advisors, you need to take an honest look at yourself and your behaviors and consider that you’re bullying people without even realizing it. If even your friends tell you you’ve been acting pushy and hardheaded, you’ve probably crossed the line from straightforward into uncompromising, brusque territory.
In their book Words That Work in Business: A Practical Guide to Effective Communication in the Workplace, Ike Lasater and Julie Stiles point out, “We believe the people around us expect us to act a certain way, and often we react to this by confining our behavior and communication within the narrow bounds of our beliefs about their expectations.”
If this is the case, it’s possible that you haven’t even initiated the behavior change. Are you experiencing an especially challenging situation, such as the serious illness of a family member or a loss of income in these tough times? Have you recently acquired a new boss who is herself harsh and uncompromising and pushing you to mimic her behavior to get the “troops” to fall in line? Are there recent additions to the board of directors who are setting new company goals that are impossible to meet? Any of these situations or something similar can throw off your leadership style and disrupt your otherwise orderly life.
What steps can you take to get back to your formerly successful direct form of management? If you were previously prone to prompt but orderly action and found decision making a quick and easy process, it stands to reason you’re longing to return to normal. If you’re willing to make the effort to get out of your recent rut, you might as well go the extra mile and actually improve your leadership method.
One change you can make, although it will likely take effort on your part, is learning how to actively listen when communicating with your team and your co-workers. To accomplish this, you will have to learn to control your tone and your nonverbal cues. Don’t be inattentive, don’t let your mind wander and most of all, really listen. Don’t just be planning the next thing you’re going to say. Do not interrupt the other party even if your mind has already raced to the speaker’s conclusion and you’re ready for a constructive rebuttal.
As Jay Sullivan explains in his book Simply Said: Communicating Better at Work and Beyond, “If we put the focus on what the other person is trying to gain from the exchange, we will do a better job communicating, because we will select more pertinent information, drill down to the desired level of detail, and make the information we are sharing more accessible to our audience.”
Consider that not everyone is like you. Even though you say what you mean without any added fluff, other people may actually need at least a modicum of common pleasantries to be effective in the workplace. With something as painless as a “good morning,” you will gain more of their attention — which is a big part of effective communication.
You’ll need to find some common ground when interacting with another individual or even a group. Don’t show your impatience with allowing them to veer off topic slightly. However, feel free to redirect their conversation after a couple of minutes to the problem at hand.
Another suggestion for more effective communication for people with a direct style of interaction is to not just point out the issues to your team members without offering some solutions for a better, more efficient resolution. No one wants to work diligently on a plan only to be told they’re completely wrong.
When you’re offering constructive feedback to an employee, ensure that you are directing your comments and suggestions to the situation at hand and the work that was done. Don’t direct the criticism to the employee because it will come off as a personal attack.
If you decide it’s worth your while to attempt even a few of these suggestions, I believe it will ultimately be to your advantage. In my career, I have worked with many executives who had a direct communication style, and I can tell you that the majority of them who made the effort were, in the long run, less stressed and more content with their career progression.
This article has previously been featured on Forbes.