Leaders are Direct but Not Blunt

posted in: Communication 2

In a recent session, participants were defining moments that changed their own leadership trajectories, and it evolved into a discussion about learning the difference between “direct” and “blunt.”

It occurred to us that leaders can sometimes find bluntness and directness to be synonymous. They’re not. And we reached a general conclusion:

Most people (but not all) appreciate communication that is direct.

Most people (but not all) do not appreciate communication that is blunt.

So, what’s the difference? It’s partly in the words and partly in the delivery.

Blunt communication can be:

  • Loud
  • Delivered at a bad time
  • An interruption
  • Without empathy
  • Without polite words
  • Vague
  • Intended to “get something done”
  • Brief
  • At the convenience of the deliverer
  • Statements
  • Without offers to help

Direct communication is more often:

  • Matter-of-fact in tone, or even friendly
  • With polite words like please and thank you
  • Specific
  • Brief
  • Delivered at the convenience of the receiver
  • Intended to create clarity
  • Questions
  • With offers to help if appropriate

Blunt communication is sometimes done in the name of “just being honest.” It has no regard for the consequences of the language, delivery, or message. Honest statements made with compassion, empathy, and growth can only work through building relationships first.

Now, to be clear, there are times when blunt communication is necessary. For example, emergency situations when you need to message to be loud, clear, and short. You need people to do something and do it NOW.

But most situations are not emergency, life or death, related. Direct communication is also honest and conveys the same message without the negative side effects. I like how Meryl Runion puts it—”Say what you mean. Mean what you say, and don’t be mean when you say it.”


You’ve gotta start getting your TPS reports in on time.
Will you please get your TPS reports turned in to Roberta by 3pm each Thursday starting this week?

Get the Icarus presentation done this week. It’s gotta be good.
What do you need from me to make sure the Icarus presentation is ready for us to review and rehearse on Friday morning at 9?

2 Responses

  1. Jared Baldwin
    | Reply

    So true. And if everyone was honest, even “blunt” people don’t appreciate being talked to in a blunt way. Also, I know that I can fall into the bad and sometimes damaging habit of being blunt. Thanks for this blog. Good stuff.

  2. Alan Feirer
    | Reply

    Thanks for weighing in, professor.

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