Directness in the workplace need not offend

07/29/2014 5:31 PM

07/29/2014 5:32 PM

I recently initiated a discuss where I talked about the importance of directness. But when I thought about it, as with most things, I realized that once you put the same issue into the workplace, the rules changed.

In your personal life, for example, the people we have relationships with can be complicated, emotional, and sometimes even fragile. However, individual acts of expressing yourself (if it’s not an abusive relationship) will probably not undermine the continued existence of the relationship.

For example, the toilet seat ups-and-downs for men and women sharing a bathroom can be an irritant but not grounds for divorce.

However, in the workplace the mere expression of one strongly stated opinion or preference can create an avalanche of impact.

Where diversity comes in is that different groups of people are still perceived differently even when behaving the same. What physical images come to your mind when I use the following descriptions: whiny, assertive, “having an attitude,” commanding, “playing the victim,” strong, nice, demanding.

Many women still talk about how their leadership style is perceived as “bossy” even when they are engaging the same assertive, confident behaviors of their male counterparts.

Many people of color, especially blacks, still compare stories of how their directness is perceived as aggressive or having an attitude.

The list goes on and on.

However, directness isn’t always about assertions or opinions. Sometimes directness is just about clarification.

So the solution isn’t less directness in the workplace but more. More questions to ask another person when you don’t understand what point he is trying to make. More questions to yourself when someone is being direct and you find yourself offended or put off by — it with the best question being how you would take the same words coming out of the mouth of a different person.

Directness needs to stop being a synonym for rude or speaking out of turn.

Directness doesn’t have to be loud or obnoxious or thoughtless.

Directness shouldn’t be weighed and evaluated solely by the body of the person speaking the words.

Use good judgment, timing and motivation when being direct. Then say what you need to say.

Send questions to Michelle T. Johnson on Facebook at


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