How many times have you, or someone you know, told a child to use their ‘inside voice'? That embarrassing moment when a child opens its mouth and before you know it, exactly what they're thinking comes spewing out? My daughter recently had a report card that stated she had a tendency to be ‘blunt'. I was proud - she was mortified. It's all a matter of perception and how we say things.
As leaders, we're mostly encouraged to say what we think, to give others feedback, and to not make our messages so fluffy that nobody understands them. But, we do need to learn the difference between being ‘direct' and being too blunt - to the point that it's inappropriate, unprofessional, or even offensive.
We are just really big children who also need to be reminded every now and then that some things are for ‘inside voice' and some things are for ‘outside voice'.
How to communicate like a leader
If you're sitting there thinking someone is an idiot, it's probably more career limiting than it is helpful to actually say ‘I think you're an idiot'. I'm not saying we should ignore our feelings. On the contrary, we should acknowledge our feelings and just put a little bit more thought into how we express them. A couple of points to note for effective communication:
- Know your audience: understanding the dynamics of the group and the personalities in the room can really help you gauge your messaging. Note though that what's acceptable to one person may be offensive to another.
- Learn to recognize your immediate reactions and learn to think them through. Sometimes your immediate reaction isn't what you really think after evaluating it and you can derail a conversation quickly without intending to.
- Too much bluntness, the ‘you are an idiot' approach, is a danger zone. Think those things in your head, try not to let them show on your face. If you still feel strongly about it later, find a constructive way to give that feedback. Even then, I would advise that ‘you are an idiot' does not work very well.
- Put yourself in their shoes- how would you feel if someone called you out in a way that made you uncomfortable, or worse, offended you?
- As the leader, never forget you're setting the example whether you like it not. Controlling your inside voice makes for more productive interactions and builds your credibility. Outside voice remarks undermine your credibility and can, if they're taken as offensive remarks, make others think you're a bully. That's not a good word to be associated with leadership.
When my daughter was younger, after one spectacularly embarrassing grocery store faux pas remark on her part, we started practicing counting to ten before we said what we thought. This wasn't to discourage her from stating her opinion, but helped to get her to think about what she wanted to say. And whispering it instead of saying it loudly doesn't count. She's still ‘blunt' but she's better at choosing her moments. So, count to ten and use that time to rethink your inside voice.