A little while ago, I published a piece called “My Number One Kink Is Direct Communication.” In that essay, I talk about the reasons why I have such a distaste for playing games with people when it comes to communication. I’m not a big fan of passive-aggression, guessing games in which one person is expected to mind-read the other’s thoughts, or fishing for compliments.
If I need something, I try to work up the courage just to plainly tell them what I’d like from them. Directly.
Instead of indirectly communicating that with a pattern of behaviors and misleading statements designed to perhaps, maybe, suggest that.
Essentially, my approach boils down to: Hey, let’s just use our words. And whenever possible, let’s use them in a way that’s meant to clear up misunderstandings rather than add more confusion to the mix.
However, I received a number of reader responses that very much puzzled me. Ones that assumed the words “direct communication” meant brusque in tone. Blunt. Indelicate.
And while I’m sure those assessments do apply to some people who prefer direct communication, I can’t say that any of those really apply very well to my situation.
It’s Possible to Be Frank, But Gentle
I’ve been described by people in my life as frank but gentle.
Some times this is quite a bit easier than others. But I do my best to give bad news gently, even in the face of conflict.
That said, delivering criticism in a way that’s clear but not harsh remains the trickiest interpersonal task of all.
If I have something to say that I know might hurt the person I’m saying it to, I do my best to deliver the information in a kind way. How exactly I do that depends on the person as well as how sensitive the particular issue in question is to them. Some situations really do require a great deal more tact than others.
Some Questions That Have Helped Me
But overall when I go to engage with someone in what I suspect will be a delicate conversation, I ask myself the following questions:
- Is what I’m going to say constructive? Am I telling them in order to help them and not myself?
- Is this information important to only me? Or will it easily be important to them as well? If not, is there a way that I can share this information that will convey that I value their viewpoint and concerns?
- What possible fears might this conversation stir up in the person I’m talking to? And is there a way I can reassure them preemptively?
A Word of Caution About Preemptive Reassurance
When it comes to that last point, however, it’s important to note that preemptively reassuring someone can be a rather delicate process and can backfire if done in an overblown, dramatic, or clunky way.
Because of this, I tend to tread lightly with this one and base it on my past conversations with the person in question and what I know about them.