by Rob Cizek
Our personality and skill set determine how easy it is for us to be direct. Some people are wired to be direct (drill sergeants, football coaches, prophets, etc.). Some people have had “direct” modeled well for them by friends and family. Other people are wired in a way that they detest conflict or have only seen “direct” used against them in ugly arguments. Where are you in this continuum? Knowing yourself will give you an indication of how difficult it will be for you to “speak the truth in love.”
Being direct starts with intent: If you need to speak with someone directly, make sure it is because you have their best interest (and the best interest of your organization) at heart. People are perceptive. People will listen if they sense you are talking with them because you care. If they sense bad intent they will quickly become defensive. Remember Theodore Roosevelt’s wise words, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Direct communication is enabled by relationship: Beyond good intent you need relationship. This means that you know the person you are speaking with. Over time you should have built positive relational capital with the individual. This means that you have made relational “deposits” in the past by encouraging them, asking about their family, helping them and paying attention to them. Having plenty of relational deposits means that you can make a “withdrawal” by being direct, without destroying the relationship. In the best relationships, showing you care by being direct can actual be a relational deposit and not a withdrawal.
Find the right location: A direct conversation requires the right location. Choose a place where others can’t see/hear you. Have tissue available in case things get emotional. Choose a place where you both can quietly go your own way immediately following the conversation. Choose an informal setting (seating area in your office) over a formal one (you behind your desk).
Use the right tone: Be mindful with your tone of voice and body language. Both should be calm, friendly and business-like. Remember that your words will have a lot of weight just because of your leadership position. The person you are talking with may have had bad experiences with confrontations and conflict. They may bring a lot of past baggage into the conversation. They may quickly become defensive if they think you are angry or wanting conflict. Commit to having the conversation quickly after the problem is discovered. Procrastinating builds tension and makes it more difficult to maintain an even tone.
Start by prefacing your comments: People want to be treated as adults. Set the stage by sharing what you will be doing and that you will be speaking in a straightforward manner. Example: “John, I know how much you care about things around here and I appreciate that. There are some things that are concerning me. If it’s alright, I would like to speak frankly with you about them.” This allows people to know that something difficult is coming but that you are going to speak about it as adults.
“Rip off that bandage quickly”: Having set the tone now is the time to say what needs to be said clearly and directly. Example: “Last month I asked you to get an agreement signed by ABC Company so they could use our facilities. As I understand it, that never happened and now they are going elsewhere. What’s up with that?” Asking for a response after stating a fact engages them and allows you to discover things you may not know. Many times the person will make excuses at first, but ultimately accept responsibility for their shortcoming.
Frame your response with common sense: At this point, keep the conversation frank and focused on the problem (so that it does not become personal). Example: “Okay, I see where things went wrong. John, losing ABC Company’s business is a $10,000 loss for us. That’s money we need to pay our employees and expand into other cities. We can’t afford these kinds of oversights. You’re better than this and I need you to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” If the person wants to take the conversation down different trails, politely and firmly redirect it back to the topic at hand. Example: “John, maybe Mary did mess up that other account . . . but right now we’re talking about what happened with ABC Company.” Stay singularly focused on the problem at hand.
Cover everything: In direct conversations there can be a temptation to explore most of a problem, but to leave out the most difficult part. Be sure to say all of what is necessary. There will never be a better time to do it! End by affirming the future and the value of direct communication: Example: “John I’m glad you’ll be doubling your efforts with ABC Company. I’ll look forward to seeing them here next year. I’m glad we have the kind of relationship where we can be straight with each other like we were here today.” End the conversation with a smile and handshake if appropriate.
DIRECT COMMUNICATION IS TWO-WAY STREET
Directness isn’t just about being able to occasionally “dish it out.” Through all your interactions, invite others to be honest and direct with you. Respond to them thoughtfully when they are. You should be able to accept direct communication from others as well as provide it. Be consistent in your directness and people will see you as a “trusted critic.” Directness with honesty can be so rare that people will value it . . . and you as a leader . . . to an unusual degree.
Is your communication style indirect? What could you change to become better at direct communication?
Rob Cizek is Executive Pastor at Northshore Christian Church, a non-denominational church of 1,500 and Christian academy of 1000 in the Seattle area. He oversees daily operation of the organization and its ministries. He also organizes a networking group for executive pastors in the Puget Sound area. Rob, his wife, Janice, and two children live in Everett, WA. Rob regularly posts resources for church leaders on RobCizek.com and Twitter at: Twitter.com/robcizek.
This post originally appeared here. Used with permission from the author.