How to Take a Direct Approach without Disrespect

Last month I taught another webinar through the American Staffing Association on dealing with difficult people. Many times the Q&A is my favorite part of teaching, and I received so many great questions from webinar attendees at the conclusion of the session.

One question I followed up on from a webinar attendee was, “How do I make sure a direct approach doesn’t come across as rude?”

I appreciate it when others take a direct approach, but I know not everyone is as receptive to getting straight to the point. There are entire cultures that find a direct approach as offensive or even rude. So, how can we quickly drill down to the issue while still coming across as “for” our colleague?

Here are a few tips:

  • First, listen well. Regardless of how spot on your feedback may be, if you haven’t taken time to really listen to the other person, that person will probably have a difficult time listening to you.
  • After listening, ask politely for permission to be honest with them. “I’d like to offer some advice. Would you mind hearing my thoughts on that?” or “May I have permission to coach you on a certain topic?”
  • Make sure your intentions and mindset are helpful. You can’t help someone if you aren’t honest, BUT our directness doesn’t have to be harsh or stern. Feedback should always be given with love and care.
  • In return, let your listener know that you give them permission to also give you feedback. Then receive that feedback with a simple thank you.

It’s hard to hear direct feedback on something we’ve done poorly. It’s feels like we’ve failed, and no one likes to fail. However, when we listen well, ask permission to share our honest thoughts, and then share those thoughts with love and care, it allows the listener to be open to hear what we need to say.

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to teach a webinar for members of the American Staffing Association on creating a culture of accountability. During the Q&A portion of the session, one attendee asked a question that many leaders have wondered about at one time time or another.

Q: Sometimes leaders approach things that need to be fixed by addressing a whole team, rather than the specific individual, so as not to point fingers. Is this a good process?

A: Team meetings to approach individual issues aren’t really the best situation because it can be seen as generic and “not for me” information. Sometimes the person actually doing the issue that the leader is talking about doesn’t think he/she is the one doing it, so he/she deflects the thought that it’s “me” and it must be someone else. Or maybe this is just a “nice to know” speech from the leader. Typically the challenge can be handled with much more effectiveness when directly communicating with the individual. Many times when a leader addresses individual issues with the whole team, they’re hoping to avoid conflict.

For guidance on how to address a performance issue, check out a previous blog post, “7 Tips for Growing Teammates Through Critical Conversations.”

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You don’t need military experience for the words “friendly fire” to send a chilling and angry awareness through your spine. Someone was harmed but it wasn’t by our enemy – it was by someone on our own side, someone who was supposed to be fighting with us, not against us.

Friendly fire happens in business too. Someone on your team throws you under the bus. Someone on your team undermines you. Someone you trusted stole from you. Someone you partnered with is lying about you. Someone who reports to you just took advantage of your relationship.

Whether intentional or not, why does friendly fire occur in the workplace? (more…)

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Unhealthy debates…well, just look at the most recent string of presidential debates (and the political process as a whole). When we can’t disagree respectfully, we undermine our credibility, hurt our opponents, and negatively impact the effectiveness of the whole debate process.

So, in light of this seemingly no-hold-barred election year, let’s look at the 10 qualities that make a debate healthy, and the 10 qualities that don’t. (more…)

I’ve written before on how to handle a difficult (okay, maybe crappy) employee, and while I’m tempted to write on how to handle a crappy president or president elect, I won’t. Ha! Today, I’ve been asked to write about how to survive under a crappy boss. Here are five tips: (more…)

In last week’s webinar on stewarding your company culture in uncertain times, one participant asked about how they should go about talking to a colleague who was violating the company’s culture or non-negotiables. Regardless of your personality or communication style, here are some helpful guidelines when confronting a teammate or peer.


You’ve probably encountered this challenge if you’ve worked long enough or in a company large enough. You and another teammate just can’t seem to get along. Maybe you didn’t get off on the right foot. Maybe it was all a misunderstanding, or maybe the interpersonal conflict is intentional. Maybe they don’t like the way you walk, talk, act or look. Or maybe it’s all in your head.

We can’t expect to be BFFs with everyone on the team, but in most cases we should be expected to interact professionally and cordially with everyone. Getting along with colleagues, especially someone we don’t particularly see eye to eye with, is an indication of our character and our maturity as leaders.

Have a teammate you just don’t get along with? Here are five things you should start doing, and five things you should stop. (more…)

Are there people who do not have a passion for anything? Is passion an essential ingredient for a successful employee? Should our employees bring the passion, or is it up to us to create it? (more…)

I had coffee with a young emerging leader this week. She is learning leadership by the bootstraps (the best way in my opinion). During our conversation she said, “sometimes leaders can be too polished.” We went on to discuss how leaders that are too polished want to make leadership look good. They want to say the right things and make leading look gorgeous and important. But in reality, the best leaders to learn from and to work for are more authentic than polished. (more…)

If you want to be a good leader you have to realize that it is all about the numbers. Producing the numbers is more important than anything else in business. Most of my clients will be astonished with this point of view. Let me be clear: A leader who cannot produce the numbers will not be successful taking a company into the future. (more…)