October 20, 2017

How direct can we / should we / must we be?

Mixed group of peopleIt depends, of course…

…on the situation, our formal role within it (if any), our personal power or authority in the specific circumstances, the personalities of other people involved, and what we want or need to achieve.

If our aim is to make a difference in a professional situation, then we may well need to be more direct than would generally be considered socially conventional.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on just how much that’s true—in my experience anyway. I’ve found I’ve benefited from being more challenging, as has the work, even though it can feel really uncomfortable to be so direct. Sometimes that’s what’s needed though.

Yes, of course…

We need to build a relationship, and that may require some caution and patience, but if that’s all we do, we probably won’t pass the “so what?” test. We might have to wait till next time for that. And the trouble is there might not be a next time.

Obviously, it helps if we can build trust and a strong relationship quickly—and, naturally, there are skills to that—and our reputation helps. Then we’ve more chance of success when we move into a more challenging part of the conversation.

But we do need to move into that more direct phase… if we want an outcome anyway.

How direct do you choose to be? Is that direct enough? Or sometimes too much?

There’s no single right answer here, but it’s worth thinking about.

We don’t challenge what we say ourselves

Three managersWe don’t challenge what we say ourselves. (Not unless we’re like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings anyway.)

OK, we might be conflicted about some subject of concern to us, and have some inner tension around that, but on the whole, we don’t reject the things we say. We don’t argue with ourselves.

And other people are just like that too. They don’t reject what they say either.


It helps a lot to get other people to articulate an issue and possible approaches to solving it. Then they’re comfortable with what’s said. They said it themselves, after all. And they might even take action.

The way to get the answer to come from them is by asking questions (open questions), sort of coaching the other person to a co-created outcome.

What’s your way of guiding someone to a solution you can support? Is that a style you can choose to adopt when you want to?

Or do you just flat out tell them your view and hope for the best? That might be seem to be quicker and take less patience. But it might not work at all. And even if it does, it leaves you with the job of supplying all the drive and direction.

Better to get it to come from them.

The things we don’t like may be the very things we need to learn

Executives listening to a presentationSometimes we react strongly against something someone else says. Or we see other people being surprisingly critical and dismissive of what seems pretty innocuous but useful information.

The very strength of the reaction might be telling us something.

We tend to push away what we need. As a teacher of mine said, “Those who are most different from us have the greatest gift for us.”

Just because the team doesn’t like something (or someone), doesn’t mean they don’t need the input. In fact, it might be the exact opposite. The strength of the reaction could be showing it’s exactly what they need. If there wasn’t some adverse reaction then the contribution wasn’t challenging enough.

It could be that stronger the reaction, the more right something is (and we can infer that we are on the right track).

And if we are initially uncomfortable or even aghast at something, it might exactly what we need.

Are you mindful of this?