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Say What You Mean, Get What You Want

Say What You Mean, Get What You Want Say What You Mean, Get What You Want

Straightforwardness is a trait I’ve always possessed, which at times in my life has been challenging, having grown up in the South where being direct is often considered rude, especially if you are a woman. While being direct has its negative connotations, if you reframe it and embrace it, directness can help make communication less confusing.

For starters, being more direct brings clarity to whatever you are communicating. This clarity can help you get what you want more quickly. Plus, being direct eliminates a lot of guesswork and provides the person, with whom you are speaking to, details on how you feel and what you need. As a result, most of the time there is less anxiety when conversing with a direct person, even if they can be slightly intimidating.

Pair Honesty With Politeness

People often confuse being direct with being rude, but this is usually not the case. In fact, a study from Columbia University found that people often overestimate how aggressive and assertive they come across to others. So, you may think you are being confrontational when you’re actually not. Most people prefer directness over someone tiptoeing around the real issue. Directness, after all, is a form of honesty.

A way to ease into being more direct, if you are uncomfortable with it, is to pair honesty with politeness. You could start your statement by letting them know you value the relationship enough to be honest with them. This will set the stage for your direct comment, but in a nice way. If you tiptoe around and are completely vague, in the hopes of not sounding rude, you could be doing someone a bigger disservice by making him or her think they are doing a good job at something that in reality needs a lot of work.

Set the Tone

Being more direct and getting what you want requires more than words, it requires the right tone of voice. In the same way an orchestra warms up before a performance, you must find and set the right tone of voice. Hitting the right pitch is important for a musician and so is finding the right tone of voice when you are asking someone to do something for you. What you are asking will determine the tone you should use. For example, if you are trying to persuade someone you know well, it never hurts to dial back the intensity and ask it sweetly. If you are pitching someone at work, sounding confident and sure of yourself will help others buy into your pitch and believe you too. The first step to setting the right tone for your pitch is to start observing how various people in your life respond to your default tone of voice and body language. Do they go along with your ideas most of the time or do they shut you down before you get to the point of your pitch? You may be getting shut down because of your tone and not necessarily what you are pitching. Evaluate yourself afterward. Tweak your tone according to their responses. And if you have an important pitch, practice different tones with someone you know first.

Use Strong Words

When I’m mentoring people on how to be more direct, I will often tell them to use stronger words over weaker words. For example, “could” you, or “would” you? “Could” is a weaker word because it sounds more optional than the direct word, “would.” “Could you make an introduction?” The recipient or anyone might do it, but if you want the person to actually do it, it’s better to say, “Would you make an introduction?”

You can see how one word can block you from getting what you want, like “Might you be able to point me in the right direction?” People tend to use the word “might” to soften a request, but words like “might’’ may not help you to achieve your goal. Instead of “might,” say, “Would you please point me in the right direction?” Even better, “Would you please direct me to the appropriate person overseeing the project?” You can still be polite without overdoing it. I try throwing in a “please” wherever I can to add in some politeness, while at the same time staying as far away as possible from using words that soften, and weaken, my requests like “could” and “might.”

No Is Better Than Maybe

Some people have the hardest time saying “no,” but they should say “no,” because it would eliminate a lot of confusion. In my work as a publicist, I encounter this problem daily, especially with TV producers. You might be surprised to hear this, but very few TV producers will give you a straight up “no” to your pitch. Most will lead you on for several weeks, saying they will call back, or that they are still reviewing it. And sometimes this is genuinely true, but many times it’s not. I appreciate the producers who do deliver an immediate “no” because I can quickly see if I can overcome the objection or cross them off my list.

Saying “no” to a request or pitch doesn’t mean you are rejecting the person. This is where I think a lot of people have guilt in telling someone “no.” If you are never going to say “yes” to someone, saying “no” is the most honest response you can give, because it will allow the other person to move on. If you have difficulty with saying “no,” take baby steps and start saying “no” to little things. Say “no” to going out with friends. Say “no” to meeting a coworker for drinks after work. When you get more comfortable with “no,” then start saying “no” to the bigger things like, “no” to a board appointment or “no” to joining another club. Being direct and saying “no” benefits everyone. The less you lead people on, and the quicker you can tell them “no,” the less anxiety you will feel about whether or not you should say “no” and the best part is, the other person is free to move on.

Depersonalize to Soften Directness

Being direct has its downfalls. It can make you appear brash. As a self-aware direct person, I must pay close attention to this. For example, anytime I’m writing an email or a text, I’ll always take a second pass through my written communication to ensure that all of my comments address the work, process, or results, and not the specific person I’m addressing. For example, instead of saying, “Your company is making a huge mistake, everyone will know you are trying to make a profit and not really helping people,” I’ll say something like, “This strategy may not be the best approach if the goal is to improve the company’s reputation.” While I’m still making a direct point, I’m depersonalizing my language, in a way that doesn’t feel like a personal attack on someone’s intelligence. Before you become perceived as overly aggressive, simply drop the “you” statements. A starting point is to get in the habit of reviewing your written communications in order to eliminate “you” statements before you press the send button. This extra step takes a bit of time, but will absolutely save you from coming off too strong. It’s much harder to persuade anyone to see things your way, if too many “you” statements get in the way of what you are trying to say.

Be Clear and Find Common Ground

Has anyone ever accused you of not being clear? One of the things I like most about being direct is that it sets clear expectations for what you need and want. Think of it this way, you are helping others do their job more effectively, and with less stress, when you are clear with your expectations. Every two weeks, everyone on the Pitch Publicity team receives a project to complete with specific goals. Everyone on my team knows what my expectation is for each project and if they achieve their goals they get compensated accordingly. That leaves zero ambiguity for what I want them to produce, and if they do it, they get rewarded, too! It’s easy to develop a structure within your job or your home environment that provides others you work with, or co-exist with, clear expectations of what you need or want. Attach an incentive to it that reinforces the outcomes you are expecting. Be consistent and be direct. In the end, your teammates, family and friends will appreciate that they always know where they stand with you as a result of your clear expectations.

That said, being direct and straightforward doesn’t always work with everyone and in every situation. Before you bulldoze your straightforwardness into every conversation, find some common ground. In any situation, your ultimate goal should be to communicate effectively with others. Some people may not respond well to your directness. In these cases, it’s best to find some common ground between your different communication styles to strike a balance that sits well with everyone. For a naturally direct person, tailoring your approach might make you feel like you’re conceding and giving in to a sugarcoating trap, but, what you are really doing is finding a better way to deepen the relationship or make progress on your initiatives. Remember, in the end, being a little flexible will serve to improve your communication dynamic and make your conversations even more effective. NIE

Amy Summers Founder and President of Pitch Publicity, has decades of experience working with major clients in the natural products industry to increase national publicity exposure across all mass media outlets, while developing key strategic communication strategies. In 2020, she launched INICIVOX to help individuals improve a wide-range of soft skills centered on the complexity of communications. She is a board member and founding partner of Naturally New York and was awarded Best Diversity and Inclusion Campaign from PR News for producing the virtual seminar series, “Identifying The Elephant In The Room: Critical Communication Strategies in the Face of Racism.” Learn more at: www.pitchpublicitynyc.com and www.INICIVOX.com.

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