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Finding the Balance: How to Be Direct Without Being Rude

In today's fast-paced business environment, it's essential for leaders to be direct and straightforward in their communication. However, being too blunt can come across as rude and abrasive, which can negatively impact team morale and relationships. The key is to find a healthy balance between being direct and being considerate.

Today we will explore some practical tips for leaders to communicate effectively without being perceived as rude or aggressive.

Talk Facts, Not Emotions

When giving feedback, it's essential to focus on facts rather than emotions. Facts are objective and provide a clear picture of what needs improvement. Emotions, on the other hand, are subjective and can be misinterpreted or misconstrued. By sticking to facts, you're not only being more considerate but also providing concrete evidence for the person to improve.

For instance, instead of saying, "Your presentation was terrible," say, "I noticed that you didn't provide enough examples to support your points. Next time, could you include more case studies to strengthen your argument?" This approach removes personal emotions from the conversation and focuses on specific areas for improvement.

Use "I" Statements, Not "You" Statements

When expressing an opinion, it's important to use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. Accusatory language can quickly shut down a conversation or escalate it into an argument. "You" statements come across as finger-pointing and can make the receiver defensive.

For example, instead of saying, "You always miss the deadline," say, "I've noticed that the project has been delayed several times. Can we discuss possible ways to meet the deadline in the future?" This approach allows you to express your concerns without placing blame or pointing fingers.

Turn a "No" into a Soft "Yes"

When someone asks you for something, it's natural to want to say "no" when you're busy or overwhelmed. However, a flat-out "no" can come across as unhelpful or uncooperative. Instead, try turning a "no" into a soft "yes" by offering an alternative solution.

For example, "I understand that you need help with this project, but I don't have the bandwidth to take it on right now. However, I can introduce you to someone who might be able to assist you, or I can provide some guidance on how to approach the project." This approach shows that you're willing to help while also being considerate of your own workload.

Be Considerate, Not Commanding

When making a request, it's important to be considerate of the other person's time and workload. Avoid being bossy or demanding, as this can create resentment and undermine trust. Instead, show appreciation for the person's help and time.

For example, "I need your help with a project, and I know you're busy. I appreciate any time you can spare, and I'll make sure to provide all the necessary information to make it as easy as possible for you." This approach shows that you value the person's contributions and are willing to work together to achieve a common goal.


Finding the balance between being direct and being considerate is a delicate art. By talking facts, using "I" statements, turning a "no" into a soft "yes," and being considerate in your requests, you can communicate effectively without coming across as rude or abrasive. Remember that clear communication is essential for efficiency and productivity, but it's equally important to be mindful of how your words and actions impact others. With practice and patience, you can develop a leadership style that is both direct and considerate, leading to stronger relationships and better outcomes for your team and organization.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.

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