How to Be Blunt / Assertive / Straightforward Without Offending

Speaking with clarity can go a long way in helping things get done. There may have been times in which you’ve felt like only saying things which would move the conversation towards a goal in sight. Acting on this feeling, you may have chosen to be blunt in what you said. Perhaps sounding a little commanding, you spoke with absolute clarity and simplicity.

Speaking clearly is essential to being understood by those who listen. However, sometimes the act of being blunt with others can be mistaken for being offensive. People tend to not enjoy being spoken to like they are machines. The more blunt you become, the higher the chance of those who listen mistaking your bluntness for rudeness.

So how do you maintain the positives of speaking clearly without the potential for being labelled as offensive? This article aims to introduce two things to remember when you decide to bluntly speak with someone else. Your quest to getting things done should not come tagged with a quest to offend others. Offending others will counteract the progress you make in productivity when speaking clearly, thereby it is important that you limit the chances of others being damaged by your speech.


The Emotional Potential of Language That You Use


A way to limit offending others when you decide to be blunt with them is to use simple, boring, and impartial language. This is a concept which is difficult to explain through writing, but it is worth a shot.

Limiting the emotional potential of the language that you use involves becoming a master of synonyms. The words you use carry varying amounts of potential for emotional responses with them. Curse words are a good example of this concept. The word, ‘hell’ has a greater potential for an emotional response than the word, ‘heck’. These words can be used interchangeably but will give rise to varying responses in your listener.

Tune into the emotional potential of the language that you use. When you are blunt with others, ensure that this potential for an emotional response is as low as it can be. Use simple language which is not known to endorse emotional responses.


The following is an example of saying the same thing twice in a blunt fashion. Once whilst using language with low potential for emotion, and the other whilst trying to get an emotional response from another.

  • Low potential for emotion: “Can you please respond to my email?”
  • High potential for emotion: “Can you stop ignoring my emails?”

The words, ‘stop’ and ‘ignoring’ carry with them a high potential for an emotional response from your listener. Each word has varying reasons why they carry with them a potential for an emotional response. In this case, the word ‘stop’ implies that your listener has been partaking in bad behavior which you’re trying to put a stop to. The word ‘ignoring’ is an accusation which most wouldn’t enjoy receiving.

The potential of the receiver being offended is higher in the second example above. They will feel accused of doing something bad, rather than motivated to do something good. The fact that you are blunt in both cases does not change, only the language that you use differs.


Knowing the Difference Between Being Offensive and Being Disliked


When you make the decision to be blunt in the way you speak, you should accept the possibility of being disliked for how you act. You can be disliked for laughing a little too loud with friends, talking a little too much with roommates, or constantly having  an angry expression on your face. Understand that being being disliked is different than being offensive towards others. People may dislike you for speaking bluntly, but make sure you do not give them a rational reason to do so.

The distinction of being offensive and disliked is small but an important one to make. To not be offensive towards others, you should have a good measure of what others may find offensive. Personal preferences come into play when we feel offended, but there is a common language to being an offensive speaker. Tap into and stay away from the common definition of what what others find offensive.

  • For example, degrading the religion of another is an almost sure-fire method of offending them. However, simply following your own religion can make others dislike you without you having done or said anything to offend them.

Follow the religion of being blunt without offending others. To do this, you must be equitable in who you’re blunt towards. Do not be blunt towards certain people and personable with others, favoritism is the creator of inequality in this case. Be blunt with the goal of helping both yourself as well as your listener, rather than just yourself. For example, be blunt with team members at work when you think your bluntness will lead to the group being more productive.

When others realize that your bluntness is only suited to help yourself at the detriment of others, the will become offended. Allow others to dislike you for being blunt, but make sure you do not offend them by being selfish. Ensure that your bluntness is going to help them as much as it helps you. Even if the ones you’re blunt towards grow to dislike you for how you act, allow them the chance to respect results it brings. Once others are positively affected by your bluntness, they will grow to respect it.

Next in line: 

How to Deliver Bad News

Book Recommendation: 

It’s the Way You Say It: Becoming Articulate, Well-spoken, and Clear

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