Why You Should be Direct with Coworkers

If you had to choose between being nice or honest, which would you choose?  This can often be an internal struggle that is present amongst people in all walks of life and Corporate America is no different.  Company culture plays a big factor into how employees interact with one another.  Some cultures are very direct, while others are more passive-aggressive.  Based on my experiences, being direct and honest is the best way to get more done and reduce inefficiencies.

Allow me to make a clear distinction here - being direct and honest is not the opposite of being nice.  Just because you are direct and honest does not mean you also need to be mean.  There is a way of being direct with someone in a tactful, respectful manner.  Additionally, being nice is not a bad quality to have, even in the workplace.  But, there is a time and place for being nice to others compared to being direct with them.

Think of this scenario: 

Your manager tells you that you are doing a great job creating a certain report, but the report is not actually useful due to errors you make.  So you continue creating the report the same way.  Your manager does not want to hurt your feelings, so they decide to be nice.

In this scenario, how is this helping anyone?  It hurts your manager, because a report being created by his/her team is not accurate, reflecting poorly on them.  It hurts the team because they have an inaccurate report.  And, most importantly, it hurts you because you have not learned from any mistakes because you do not know you’re making them.  Let’s try the scenario again, but this time with a direct and honest approach:

Your manager tells you the reports you’ve been producing have had errors in them.  They tell you what the errors are and how to go about fixing them.  You apologize for making the errors, head back to your desk, fix the errors, and send out the accurate report.

As a result of being direct and honest, everyone wins.  Your manager has an accurate report to share with the team, which can now use the report successfully, and you have learned something new and are effectively contributing to the team.

Notice in the direct and honest approach, the manager stuck to the facts.  Rather than sharing their opinion on how you did, they informed you of the problem and how to fix it.  Judging a person based on a problem or issue is not necessary.  Separate the problem from the person.

While these are best case scenarios and represent relatively minor issues, it is a good lesson to take even for large-scale problems.  No matter the scenario, you should be direct with your communications.  Address the problem head on and do not jump around the problem.  By attacking it right away you will not waste any time and will be sure you can progress on projects in the appropriate manner.

Thought Starters

  • What situations have you been in where your manager or a business partner was not direct and it led to a future issue?
  • How can you alter your communication style to be more direct and honest with others, while maintaining a level of respect?