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 labeled 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 desire 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 involuntary angry expression on your face. Understand that being being disliked is different than being offensive toward others. People may dislike you for speaking bluntly, ensure though, that you do not give them a rational reason to be offended.

The distinction between being offensive and disliked is small but an important one to understand. To not be intentionally offensive toward others, a developed sense of what others may find offensive should be curated. Personal preferences, of course, 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 definitions of what what others find offensive below.

1.

A principal difference between being offensive and being disliked is the utilization of narrow vs. broad targets for your words. The broader the language you use is, the less likely someone is to be offended. Singling people, things, preferences, habits, and actions out with your words always carries the capacity to offend. 

  • For example, degrading the specific religion of another, as it compares to yours, is an almost sure-fire method of offending them. However, simply following your own religion in a strict fashion can make others dislike you without you having done or said anything to offend them. 
  • Another simple example is stating: “Carol didn’t get her weekly report in on time, so the team fell off track,” rather than, “We didn’t get the weekly report finalized on time, so naturally we fell off track in regard to the month-end package.”  

Constantly analyze whether you can address a certain issue in a straightforward manner whilst using the most general vernacular you can manage. Follow the path of selecting the most general ways to say the things you want to say. As you get into the habit of not singling sensitive entities out in your addressal of issues, you’ll discover ways to be blunt / direct without offending. 

2.

A second important risk factor for offending people you’re being blunt toward, is not understanding the “you didn’t,” vs. “you should,” distinction. When addressing mistakes of others for example, blaming them for their past mistakes carries more potential to offend rather than clearly stating what they should do in the future. Since they’d have no capacity to change what mistakes they made in the past, they wouldn’t see clear ways of getting out of your disappointed gaze. In feeling trapped by your choice of dialogue, they’d likelier resort to being offended. 

  • For example, rather than saying “Carol, you didn’t submit the report on time this week,” vs. “Carol, please try to submit next week’s report on time.” 

Abide by the goal of being blunt without offending others. Be equitable in who you’re blunt toward. Do not be blunt toward certain people while being personable and polite with others. Favoritism is the father of inequality and seclusion. Be blunt with the goal of helping both yourself as well as your listener, rather than propping yourself above those who listen.

When others realize that your bluntness is only suited to help yourself at the detriment of others, they’ll have a reason to be offended. Allow others to dislike you for being blunt, but ensure you do not offend them by being selfish and singling anything / anyone out. Ensure that your bluntness is going to help them as much as it helps you. Even if the ones you’re blunt toward grow to dislike you for how you act, allow them the chance to respect the results your bluntness brings about. 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



Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims in any way.