Are You Blunt? How to Say What Is on Your Mind Without Leaving a Trail of Dead Bodies

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Sharon Melnick, Ph.D.

You are a results-oriented, strategic thinker. You get more done than most people around you. You have good instincts about what needs to be done, and you know the “right” way to do it. You are often 10 steps ahead of everyone else in the meeting. 

You are valued as a “driver” and yet you are told you are “too blunt.”  The words “arrogant” and “impatient” are applied to you.
At best, it is said that you “don’t listen enough” to others’ ideas or your tone is “negative.” 

At worst, you are known to roll your eyes at others’ ideas or lash out at direct reports who don’t submit work up to your standards.

By having a style that is described by others as “focused on the tasks but no human side,” you are getting in your own way.   You are limiting your ability to move into higher leadership and to be influential in your organization.

I can see from the increased number of requests for coaching assignments I’ve gotten in today’s economic environment, organizations are emphasizing the importance of positive workplaces and are rapidly decreasing their tolerance of the “old way” that drivers do business. 

If you are a driver who has been more focused on getting results than on creating effective long-term relationships and a positive working environment, you may find yourself passed over for advancement as the economy improves. But that doesn’t have to be. You can set yourself up for success using the strategies here to go from “ripping through people” to having a reputation as “respectful.” 

  1. Articulate the “big picture” you really want. Honestly assess your vision of your “big picture” ideal–for instance, “who you would prefer to be a leader.” Frequently I ask drivers what they really want and what they say is that what is truly most important to them is “to be a respected leader,”  “to create followership,” “to have people look back and say they were happy working for me,” and so forth. Why do they want to leave these impressions with others? They say they want to be in a more senior position in order to have more influence over strategic direction.

    Notice that all of these perceptions and goals depend on having good working relations with other people.  
    If these statements reflect your goals, then you can use them as your new “filter.” Before every communication or action, ask yourself:  “Is what I am about to do/say ‘in the service of’ making my goals a reality?”

  2. Focus on “process” before “content.” Every communication has two levels:  The “content” is the words, the numbers, the message; in other words, the information you want to convey.  The “process” has to do with the way the other person feels in interacting with you.   Which part of the communication are you focused on?  It is likely the content. Which part of the communication do those with whom you interact focused on? The answer is the process.

    Most people pay attention first to how they “feel” interacting with you.  If they “feel” listened to,  if they “feel” respected, and if your tone makes them “feel” competent, then they will listen to the directive you are giving them.   If they “feel” interrupted, if they “feel” condescended to,  if they “feel” that you are judgmental, then  they will engage in an emotional self talk that interferes with them comprehending or implementing your message (e.g., be resentful towards you for dismissing their ideas).

    Learn to first make a good relationship with those with whom we communicate, then they will be open to listening to your directives or working with you to quickly accomplish your goals.  

    Examples of how you can pay attention to the process include: ask others at the beginning of a meeting what they would like to accomplish and support their goals as much as pushing your agenda; or ask for clarification about how others arrived at a certain decision/result (instead of criticizing them for not doing it your way). Finally, ask permission to share your approach.

  3. Act for the long term. For you, each interaction is important because each deliverable is a referendum on your ability to get results and get greater responsibility. Remember this and try to act for the long term. The thing that will ultimately propel your advancement the most is to make good relationships with others—not on who gets credit for the particular initiative on the table or whether you spent five extra minutes today listening to a colleague who wants to have input.  Learn to let other people’s “bad ideas” die of their own accord without you needing to point it out upon first mention. 

  4. Cool yourself down. You often come across a little “hot under the collar” and impatient with others.  Here is a breathing technique you can do in the middle of a meeting to cool yourself down. It’s called “reverse breathing” because you breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose.   When you open your mouth slightly and breathe in, you should feel a cooling sensation across your tongue.      
    Done for a few minutes, you will find yourself more relaxed, not so rash in your comments.

Being a results-oriented, strategic thinker who is also respectful of others is a rare and “killer” combination. By working on these four steps, you will find yourself becoming a highly respected, very effective senior manager.

About the Author(s)

Sharon Melnick, Ph.D., is an executive coach and corporate speaker for diverse organizations, including  Deutsche Bank,  Freddie Mac, Oracle, Deloitte Consulting, Pitney Bowes, Carpenter Technology, and Visiting Nurse’s Service of New York. For more information, visit: