Be precise, be specific and be blunt

I‘ve just asked you not to over explain, so this may seem a little contradictory. But, please, please, be precise, be specific and be blunt:

  • start a conversation with a little background – for example, say “Eric, remember last Friday when we discussed…”
  • always use names instead of pronouns – say “Jack wrote it” not “he wrote it”
  • use titles instead of nouns – say “I read The Cat in the Hat” not “I read a book”
  • use dates – say ”Thursday September 8th” not  “next week” or “next Thursday” or “very soon”
  • use real-life examples to illustrate instead of speaking in generalities
  • provide links or copies of any text you refer to
  • speak your mind, politely but bluntly – take a stand

Why? I don’t know what you were thinking 10 seconds before you started talking. I don’t want to guess what you’re referring to, I want to know. And I want to know without asking you. It’s not efficient or fun for me to ask you what you’re talking about. So please give me the material I need to follow along – give me names, titles, dates, links, documents, and examples!

I speak schmooze, spin, evasion, bull, and plain old common senseAnd please be blunt. Subtlety is a costly habit. Half the time what you thought you said was not heard. The other half, you’re perceived as timid or manipulative. Speaking directly may be a little uncomfortable for both of us, but it’s an unavoidable side of life and business.  Not addressing the difficult issues and not asking difficult questions allows issues to fester and grow and breaks trust. Show you care by telling the truth clearly and politely.

Confusion is expensive and demoralizing and avoidable. It always reflects badly on us whether you’re the culprit or the victim or we’re working as a team to create confusion. Is that clear?

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  • sstokes2012

    I constantly struggle with this at work, coming off as timid or shy, but recently I’ve gotten a lot better at being assertive and showing my confidence. In the beginning it was definitely hurting my work as far as raises or promotions because I considered myself to be one of those people who let their work speak for itself and I was constantly trying to prove myself through my work when all I had to do was speak up and when I did, a lot changed for me, for example, I’m a hostess and I used to long to fill the restaurant instead of just being the restaurant filler’s flunky because I knew I could just a good of job probably even better than the restaurant filler. Once I spoke up and showed expertise about filling up a restaurant, the managers watched closely and a couple of days later I got a phone call asking me if I wanted a promotion. Being precise, clear and specific in the workplace is-I would say-the number one way to get ahead of the game.

  • Sarah Morriss

    I really like this post. it really is true that we need to speak up and if it hurts you then it is ok. THE TRUTH HURTS!

  • http://academy.justjobs.com/be-precise-be-specific-and-be-clear/ AnthonySHodges

    None one like to be talk to death and no like it’s when your explaining things you leave room for questions. Being quick and straight to the point is the way to go in the work place. With different task at hand no one really has the time for long drawn out talks or explanations.

  • Alicia

    This article was very interesting because I have to apply direct conversation in any professional setting. My bosses appreciate a direct conversation. If I have any grievances against someone, hiding it is strongly advised against. We speak openly, debate even about differences. One time, when I wasn’t getting along with a co-worker, we tried to avoid hashing out our problems. This only made our problems worse. The tension grew until our superiors had to sit us down and make us talk out our differences. We learned to communicate better after that. This example shows how directly speaking to anyone that you work for or with is exceedingly important in my workforce.

  • Tayler Tate

    I totally agree! I have found that if I need my bosses help or I see a problem and feel it needs to be addressed they are a lot more likely to take action or help me if I am direct and honest with my concerns.

  • http://academy.justjobs.com/be-precise-be-specific-and-be-clear/ Austin Helot

    Being in a fast pace job you come to appreciate the benefits of short, clearly communicated statements. I was actually recently promoted because I could communicate in a simple, specific and brief manner my employer values. There is a caution to brief exchanges. This is the potential to offend someone by being “too short with them”, too blunt or too unspecific. Like saying “You, go in the back and take this.” No one wants to be called “you” but addressed respectfully by their name. Also take what where? In the above statement the sender has identified “The Back” and most people can rationalize where that is in their workplace but it still may be unclear in certain instances. Finally, “take this”. There is no label attached to “this” how do I know what to take. Once I take it what am I supposed to do with it or where should I put it? The above statement “You, go in the back and take this.” is too open ended and unspecific. It demeans and likely confuses the receiver. My point is that it is necessary to be specific, give details and clarify and not just be short.

  • Brittanie Scarbrough

    Being blunt is important in the work place and saves so many miscommunication issues! Subtlety is ineffective and less likely to get your actual point across. It is important to use proper communication tools to ensure all staff are on the same page. It helps other people know exactly what you want and expect. Listening is the opposite side of being blunt and equally important because sometimes what you say is not what is heard. Clarification is always a good skill to learn.

  • Taw Fredrickson

    This is so true! Its better to be blunt than to toy around the matter and make things more difficult by adding the he said she said stuff. It saves time and stress, and after all, you want to minimize stress at work so you don’t take it home with you!

  • Katrina Means

    I love this lesson because, well, it is blunt. There is a respectful but plan and blunt way to speak up about problems one might be having at work. Answers should be just as blunt but not rude. It is much easier to speak in plain English than have to try to translate a lot of job jargon in order to increase workload and efficiency.

  • Amber Clark

    This lesson is very close to my heart. It seems that professional communication such as this is a lost art. I have always been very forward yet polite with people and found that it is the best way to clear up misunderstandings and avoid misunderstandings entirely. I worked as a cashier at a store where tensions were always high because instead of employees confronting the manager politely and professionally, they thought it best to complain to me instead. I was in no position of power and could not make the changes they desired. I told them several times to go to the manager with their complaints because it was unprofessional to complain to me, someone below their rank. They never listened. Eventually I had a complaint of my own so I confronted the manager politely and professionally. I was blunt, specific, and professional. After my brief conversation, I never had anymore complaints for the remainder of my employment there. Compared to my coworkers at the time, my job seemed less stressful and my work was more complete. I value this advice and I will use it in my career to avoid misunderstandings and drama.

  • http://www.facebook.com/yasmin.hill.313 Yasmin Hill

    Being blunt without being confrontational is a struggle of mine simply because – I typically avoid confrontation altogether. I inevitably err on the side of speaking sweetly and politely. I cannot count the number of times that people actually ask me to repeat something because I am speaking too softly out of fear that I would somehow be rude for speaking any louder.

    Making sure to provide an adequate background to what you are saying also rang a bell with me. When I’m feeling excited, words start flowing, and when I see my husband look at me in confusion, I know it’s time to back up.

    Although I have made some great progress over the last few years, when I am very nervous, I still tend to lower my voice and my gaze and avoid any kind of direct language. This article is a reminder to me of how important it is to overcome this tendency of mine in the business world.

  • AkilahB

    Being clear, concise, blunt, yet tactful with my delivery of information is a process that I have been attempting to be better at over the years. I came from a traditional family where the youth were perceived as not knowing anything or what they had to say was not important. In addition, every time you spoke it must be in an overly polite manner because all other members of the family and social networks were superior. This was a very difficult thing for me to overcome when entering the work force. I was praised by the authority figures for being respectful and doing a great job. However, in my mid-late twenties when promotions became available to supervisory or managerial roles I was not considered. I did eventually get promoted and then realized that I was perceived as weak and timid by those that I supervised. I avoided confrontation and any disciplinary action that was needed. I would discus pertinent issues very quiet and timidly, grazing around the primary issues because I wanted to remain ‘friends’ with everyone yet not come across as bossy. I would become so frustrated that with my passive aggressive behavior I would then become very harsh when delivering information to my staff. Initially, I was not successful, but when it was brought to my attention that not only was the department suffering but it was directly affecting the customer satisfaction and company, I made a decision to make a change. I learned many things such as organization setting rules that must be followed by everyone which enabled the department to run more efficiently. These tactics resulted in me succeeded in the supervisory position for two years and my team and I accomplished tasks and became the ideal department.

  • April

    I would have to say bravo to those who think of this before they make these mistakes, though I am sure they are few and far between. I know I have fallen prey to several of these mistakes without realizing it at the time. It wasn’t until much later that I realized what I was doing wrong when going to interviews or within different jobs themselves.

    I have been unclear to people in the past by speaking in a way in which some people did not understand. Sometimes I would say things backwards or in an incorrect order and when trying to retract the statement it only made matters worse. Sometimes I felt like making one mistake would cost me everything.
    Thankfully now I have a pretty good grasp on how not to confuse people any longer as well as to me more blunt. There is no room for “beating around the bush” when it comes to something as important as precision and bluntness when speaking to someone you work with.

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  • kpolign

    I really like the “please be blunt” and so can relate to this. When I was working at a bathing suit store my manager and all employees, except for me, had been fired/laid off. I had been asked to complete the tasks of a manager while my district manager was interviewing/hiring a new one. She would have weekly discussions regarding what went wrong with previous employers and what I found worked best with selling techniques and how to make the store succeed. She always told me that honesty may hurt but it is necessary and requested that I always be honest with her in regards to what I thought about tough topics. We were so successful during this period of time we were up 50% in store sales and hired 3 employees! It was a very positive influence in how I view what bosses look for in an employee and honest is always the best policy.

  • MelissaAKing

    Be precise, be specific and be blunt is one of life’s greatest and hardest lessons to learn. In a generation that is full of abbreviations and never getting to the point of what we really want or need it is very important to learn. I have learned that it is very easy for me to start a conversation as if the person that I just started talking to knows exactly what I was thinking before I started talking to them. This always leads to confusion. Being precise and specific about exactly what, when, where, who and why you are talking about this certain thing helps your listener be fully into the conversation. In reality, when you are precise and specific for your listener it allows them to provide to you better feedback. When we are talking to people that are higher up in command than us it is extremely necessary so that you can seem more professional.

    Being blunt might be harder for our generation more than being precise and specific combined. I am not a very confrontational person and tend to go in circles around what is really bothering me. It tends to just create confusion which can be detrimental to the relationship, so even when it is uncomfortable to bring up something we need to just be blunt. In a work setting getting straight to the point is crucial to the team. When a coworker or even your boss makes a mistake not letting them continue with the mistake can be the difference between winning the contract or losing. It might be extremely intimidating to correct your boss, but if they have to present the project to someone that is higher up than they are with a mistake, it will be more embarrassing for them when that person corrects them. Not to mention that it would reflect poorly on the whole team for allowing the mistake to go unnoticed.
    Overall, this article helped me learn in ways that I could improve my preciseness, specificness and bluntness not only in a professional setting, but also in my day to day life.

  • Akilah B

    I worked in the hospitality and tourism industry for 11 years. In this industry the staff that has direct customer interaction is taught that we abide by whatever the customer wants within reason of course. We were to always talk polite and were trained to be subtle yet cheerful and friendly at all times. Most of the customers would come to the resort where I was employed and did not want to be hackled by the help. During those 11 years I was promoted to a supervisory/managerial position. In this new position I had to learn to not be subtle because I was the primary individual assisting with guest complaints, employee questions and even disciplinary action. This was a big change for me and really took some adjusting to get into. I recently left that job and did a complete career change to working for a government health care agency. It is very different from what I was previously doing. It has been very challenging to get to learn the vibe in the new office. I am always wondering if I see that one of my coworkers does something incorrectly, do I report it or not? Reading this article has given me guidance to know the path that I should take to learn and exceed in my new career in regards to communcation.

  • JeffLS

    When I use to try to explain things to people, including professors, and persons in the walk place, i would talk a lot and go all over the place just to say one thing. That is why i understand fully what this lesson is referring to. In a work place no one has time to waste so when explaining something you must get straight to the point while being as specific as you can. This way whomever you are speaking to can give you an answer or response without having to ask extra questions to figure out what you are talking about in the first place. This saves time, and time is money and in a work place the last thing you want to do is waste money. This also shows a sign that you know what you are doing and talking about with your job.

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In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at LatPro.com. Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of JustJobs.com. He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.

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