The High Cost of Not Being Direct



As a leader, are you clear with others?  

Are you sure?

I'm always surprised at the number of companies where their culture is to communicate indirectly. A recent survey of 1,000 U.S. workers about communication issues that hamper leadership found something striking: 57 percent of respondents complained that their leaders do not give clear directions. That was the second-most-cited issue in the whole survey. Other common complaints also show employees' dissatisfaction with leaders' lack of directness. Just over half of respondents said leaders simply refuse to talk to subordinates. And 39 percent said their leaders fail to offer constructive criticism.

Confusion and Missed Opportunities

In my work as an executive coach, I've seen similar issues play out at many companies. People who have a more direct, transparent communication style can have trouble in such an environment, and are often asked by others to "soften their message." They struggle with knowing what they can bring up and how to do it in a way that fits in with the culture.

I also hear from employees who get frustrated because their bosses send conflicting messages or don’t clearly state their expectations. A boss may say he expects one thing, but his actions indicate something completely different.

Leaders with an indirect style often miss opportunities to give their team members valuable feedback. When employees don't understand specifically what others value about what they do and how they do it, they underutilize their strengths – which has an impact on them and the company. On the other hand, some leaders shy away from giving constructive feedback because they worry about damaging the relationship with the employee. But, as the results from the employee survey affirm, the real damage comes when leaders aren't open and honest enough to tell their team members what's holding them back.

How to Navigate through a Culture of Indirectness

I advise clients who work in a culture of indirectness to pay attention to what others are doing, not just what they're saying. If your boss doesn't give you feedback, you'll find ideas in this blog post to help you succeed despite a lack of specific direction.

I also have an earlier blog post with tips to help leaders be direct when delivering difficult feedback. Just remember to offer the feedback in the spirit of generosity and to frame it in a way that shows how much you care about the employee's success ("If I were you, I'd want to know this …"). When you offer this kind of feedback, you build trust and strengthen your relationship with your team members.

This week, challenge yourself to be just a little more direct in your communication style by acknowledging that what you are sharing is valuable to the other person — and that it can be done with care and concern. By simply asking yourself “How do I want to show up in this conversation?” you’ll notice what’s most important to you and will focus on how to convey that. And for more tips about effective communication that helps you succeed, be sure to check out my book "Show Up. Step Up. Step Out." You can read an extended free sample on my website.