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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  • Kerri Schwartz

    Thanks for this lovely advice! I find myself to be blunt in out of work situations but in work I feel I need to be more professional and try to explain to situation with various tasks so what I’m trying to say doesn’t come across in a negative way. I’ll work on my, “Well you remember three weeks ago when that patient came in with their daughter and they wanted to know what vaccines were needed for their visit to pick up the child they adopted that they weren’t sure they were actually going to gain custody of? Well they called and they were curious if they do receive that vaccine will their insurance cover it or will they have to pay out of pocket? Oh and if they do have to pay out of pocket they want to know how much it would be.” to “Does Blue Cross Blue Shield cover this vaccine, if not what is the out of pocket expense for them?” I greatly appreciate the article and I’m sure my co-workers will too!

  • kait8513

    My four year old daughter just started Kindergarten and they have a special window where the students can share stories or events, I think it is so important to foster a sense of independence and not only give them the skills to speak in public, but to teach them how to speak correctly.
    When asked a question, the difference between a “Yeah” and a “Yes” makes all the difference in the world. Being clear and concise is imperative in both being understood, but also in being respected.
    As the Vice President of my Home Owner’s Association I am always sending out e-mails ab out the next meeting or a reminder here and there. If I send out a generic “See you tomorrow at the board meeting” it does not read clearly for someone who may not check their e-mails immediately, and it is also not as professional or clear-cut as saying “Reminder: The board meeting will be held tomorrw, August 8th at 7:00 PM.” People should not have to translate their own language, we should articulate what we want to say and not have someone guessing what we mean, or what we are talking about. This is important for work, school and for life in general.

  • NKing3

    I believe this is very important for high school and college students who are working. I remember almost having a misunderstanding with my boss because I didn’t fully clarify what I was asking about. When you are very specific with names, dates, etc. there is virtually no room for misunderstanding/assuming on either part. This can even be applied to personal relationships, not just in the professional world.

  • zhendershot

    There are many times in my life that I had to be very precise about what I was doing and saying. Being involved in athletics my entire life has taught me these key values. When in practice, or even a game, I have been taught to make snap decisions based on the situation at hand. Taking too much time to think on a certain action would cause my team to be affected in a negative manner.

    I can apply this to my everyday life in the classroom and in life. A good example would be the attention to detail. If i did not take the right step or make the correct call, my team would be affected negatively. In the workplace, if i do not give the right name of a customer to my superior, that would cause a negative affect on my customer which could result in the loss of that persons business. Confusion on the field could cause the loss of that particular game, but confusion in the work place could cause you to get fired.

  • Leilani B.

    This should be key in anything. Being precise, specific and blunt with anyone in our lives can improve many relationships, not just the customer/teller or coworker relationship. Through experience using this in my relationships makes it so much easier to get my point across and avoiding miscommunication and arguements for later.

  • backtoschool

    Honesty is the best policy! I worked for a Fortune 500 company before going back to school for a career change and during my time working for this corporation I realized they hardly valued honesty. There were only a handful of honest coworkers I interacted with and when any type of bad news was brought to the managers, the information was manipulated and changed to be perceived as good news. I am glad I stumbled across this article because it supports what my feelings were about being honest and blunt. Sometimes the bad news is more important than the good news because lessons can be learned from mistakes but hiding the mistakes is bad for everyone.

  • Regg yah

    Being straight forward is the best policy. I hate when your boss bullshits you because they really don’t know themselves. Know your job and be truthful. You dont have to mean and nasty when being straightforward either.

  • Kamilla05

    I work as a sale associated at walmart a lot of time I’m not able to walk the customers to the place that they need to be or the item they need to find so i have to be very precise and blunt cause if i give them to much information then it might confuse them or they will only remember part of what i said so short and straight to the point is the best thing to do when give directions.

  • mrivas76

    The information covered in this passage is so true. I usually do the opposite of what was mentioned here. From this I learned that be being precise, specific and blunt I can avoid making mistakes and others will know what I mean. They will not have to guess or make presumptions about what I meant to say.

  • Crystal O’Brien

    I can relate to this topic especially within the last few years at my job. My manager isn’t always very clear or concise when asking me to perform a task or i read her email and think i know what she is asking only to find out she is asking something completely different. A lot of the time it is total confusion and chaos, especially lately.
    however, i have always been one to be blunt and to the point, not tip toeing around, which i think my manager has come to enjoy about me. she knows that if we are in a meeting or a conversation with other team mates i will not hesitate to just come out and discuss what the issues might be or bring the pink elephant to the forefront of the conversation.
    I think she enjoys this because she gets a honest, clear answer from me rather than a wishy wash suck up answer of ‘whatever you want.’ Although not everyone appreciates my bluntness, but it is usually the ones who have something to hide or would be much more content to not discuss the hard issues. While i am blunt and honest, i try to take peoples feelings into consideration when i bring up a subject to discuss, not just placing them in front of a cannon and letting it blow.

  • I remember working for a tech support company around 5 years ago. One of the worst traits in one of my managers was his constant need to “beat around the bush” every time he needed to discuss something with me. I found it very inefficient. It made him sound less intelligent because he took way too long to say what he was trying to say. I had a job to do, and my job had time constraints. The manager’s talks lasted 20 minutes when they could have lasted five minutes instead. Managers who try to be friends with their employees are doing both a disservice. It does not mean the managers should be cruel, but jeez let me get back to work.

    When someone tries too hard, or worries too much about making sure to say something without being offensive or cruel or vulgar, the intended meaning can get lost. When someone gives me a task, I question every aspect of it. I never blindly accept decisions because I do not want there to be any confusion after the fact because the person giving the task used too many sugar-coated phrases. I upset many people because I do not try to be tactful with every single word I say. However, those same people later say one of my best qualities is I say what’s on my mind.

  • toya904

    One very important point made in this article is “I
    don’t want to guess what you’re
    referring to, I want to know.”
    People tend to talk in code or shorthand. This causes a lot of confusion and
    frustration for the person who is receiving the information. I had a client
    tell me “you my thing is on, I need one of those things” she became very
    frustrated when I could not figure out what she was talking about. Once I
    pulled her to the side she was still embarrassed /shy to tell me that her
    period was on and she needed feminine products. I personally respond better to
    a more direct approach, but no matter how clear the direct approach maybe there
    are some people who need things “sugar coated” for the sake of their feelings
    being hurt.

  • Rickie T

    I have been taught with two different mottos: one, “if you have nothing nice to say then don’t say it at all” and two, “always be honest”. Growing up, these two mottos can be conflicting and unless you learn how to balance the two it can be detrimental. Through employment experiences and civilian experiences, I have found ways to balance the two mottos taught as a child.

    I have held positions with different employers who my managers were indirect. I found myself having to set my own expectations with my supervisors and managers to continue my growth process. At times, managers would go around the subject to avoid looking like the bad guy. My belief, if you are the boss, you are not to be my friend but my boss who sets expectations, awards me when I do things correctly, practices disciplinary actions when I do things wrong, and at the same time helps assist me with growth and development through training and coaching.

    As a manager now myself, I have held positions in different branches and with different teams of people. I have found that not each team can be taught the same, communicated with the same, or have the same expectations. I have found that as a manager one must always be adaptable but always open minded for change and accepting of good and valuable information employees can provide. It is amazing what one may learn from a subordinate employee where many managers don’t even allow the opportunity or wish to even hear their ideas.

    Today, with positive and negative recognition I am direct with my employees. I also have an open door policy and periodically, I always welcome my employees to comment on my management styles or share other concerns. Surprisingly, employees have shared with me their appreciation of my directness for both positive and negative recognition. I have been told it is because of me that they feel important and they feel like they want to succeed and do more than what their current position allows. They now look for future growth and promotions.

    To this day, I continue this practice of sticking with the facts and being direct. When being direct with negative recognition, I have found starting with a positive recognition is always helpful and smoother when communicating with an employee. I begin by sharing something I feel they are doing really well and need to continue that, I then share the facts by being direct with what they have done incorrectly, and I then set my expectations with the employee. Afterwards, I ask how this sounds to get a commitment. Sometimes my expectation are not realistic or reasonable and maybe as a manager I will need to dedicate more time to assist that employee for success and not failure. Whatever it may be, at that time we discuss and I ensure success with the guarantee that the employee will also commit.

  • Chelsea Brehm

    This article made some interesting points. I agree what lack of clarity or confusion is detrimental to business and the consequences are severe. However, I do not agree 100% with the concept of being blunt. This is a very American, very Western and very ethnocentric view on communication styles. I do international business and marketing, and work in other countries and cultures that have different styles of communication. To be blunt could be perceived as being rude, and you may upset your potential business partners. They may think you are too aggressive and not trustworthy. It is always important to consider the cultural environment you are working in and adapt your communication style to better serve that environment.

  • Vernita68

    I feel that if you tell an individul what it is you expect or want up front and do it honestly, with specifics, and be precise and blunt lots of problems could be avoided. The problem is most individuals go all the way around the world just to make a point and still leave the person whom they were speaking with wondering what it is they were trying to say and create confusion. My motto is “just tell me what you want” or “ask me what you want to know” it is so simple!

  • PWilliams

    I like it when people tell me precisely what they expect of me and how they want things done, so I know the parameters of the assignment. Giving specific details makes the job even easier. I want to do my best on everything I do. I did not realize that being soft spoken instead of blunt was a mistake until I had a supervisor tell me I should speak my mind: being confident in myself and my position makes my superiors confident in me as well.

  • JLewis

    I am a teacher’s assistant and I find this advice to be very beneficial in my professional life. When working with another teacher, we have to be on the same page in order to ensure that our classroom runs smoothly and efficiently. Often times things can get lost in translation when communicating because someone was too vague or someone was trying to be too polite. In such a fast paced and high energy environment, information has to be transferred between the two of us quickly and efficiently to maintain. I have found that being straight forward with my teacher has helped our classroom dynamic and made our working experience together a lot more pleasant.

  • This happens to me on a daily basis. I love it when people let me know exactly what they want and how they want it. I do not want to mess up something you want just because you failed to give me the details. One thing that does stress me out is when a teacher wants to give us the opportunity to write on a topic but doesn’t give you the guidelines they are expecting from you. I tend to write ok papers when in these circumstances. There was a time where one teacher in high gave me an F on a paper because it did not meet her criteria. I ask her what criteria she was talking about because there never was one set for that paper. She did not want to listen to me. What I did was compare my papers to my classmates’ papers and saw the feedback that she left them. A couple of weeks pass by and she gives us another free topic paper. This time, I felt like I was ready. I guess I took her by surprise because she ended up giving me a B for that paper. I wish I knew what she was looking for. I never did get a higher grade than that B in any of my papers for the rest of the year. I like doing my best when given guidelines because I can prove to myself that I am capable of accomplishing whatever the sinario maybe. With my education, I do not like to fool around with or jeapordize it.

  • KHawkins30

    Being specific and precise is a given, being long winded and beating around the bush takes a lot out of a person. I work in the banking business and if you are not specific and precise clients tend to get impatient and may not comprehend what you are saying. As a worker that deal with clients on a daily basis you have to make sure that your client understands and that no mistake is made in the process of their transactions. I do trades and handle clients account transfers and it takes a lot to repeat and make sure that the information is correct on both our ends. Some of my co -workers clients get frustrated because they are not specific and precise. Some co -workers don’t understand clients don’t want to hear stories and unnecessary information irrelevant to their situation. Clients want to hear clear and concise information, they want you to repeat their transactions so that both parties are clear of the situation and agreed upon on.

  • Hunny Mustard

    I think that these basic guidelines are very helpful, especially pertaining to interviews for a job. A lot of employers want to know a little something about a potential employee. But on the same token, they don’t want to be bored by long drawn out scenarios, nor do they want to be left clueless about a point you are trying to convey. My current employer asked me to tell her about a time I was faced with a difficult situation while at work, how did I address it, and how did I keep my composure. I simply told her when the situation occurred, why the situation occurred, the way I handled it, and how I kept my composure. She agreed that I did the right thing. Since the interview, I’ve been working at the same place.  

  • Beachcple

    When I started working at my job, I remembered these very words of wisdom. I used the suggestions
    above whenever I had a conversation with a coworker or boss. While I was in high school I took a class about how to be successful within your employment, one of the assignments was to role
    play with another student using these quidelines. Once I started working and used them it sure made
    things so much better.

  • Beachcple

    I truly believe in being specific and blunt. When speaking always use the guidelines listed above. When I first started my job, a co worker advised me of this and to this day whenever I am dealing in a business world, I am reminded of these suggestions. It has saved me a lot of times

  • Jdbonavia

    This lesson was a pleasure to read through and I found it helpful and very applicable to myself.

    Conciseness is a top-tier attribute to have in a professional setting. Many things need to be said, but a number of people, including bosses, do not have the time to hear an unabridged version of a situation or story. 
    A personal experience of mine relates to the magnitude of being precise and specific. At a sports business event hosted by Nike I attended this past spring, the concept of a “thirty second pitch” or “elevator pitch” was brought up. West coast Nike leaders were explaining to the audience how important this was because it allows you to introduce yourself in a short time period. They said that it was a defining factor when you first attempt to meet and network with someone in the professional realm. This encouraged me to begin crafting my own short introduction in order to quickly let people know the skills I possess, the accomplishments I have achieved, and the advantages I can offer as a friend, worker, or associate. 

    Conciseness is important from step one of looking for a job. In today’s hectic world, people are more busy that ever, so that is why we must be clear and present all the information that needs to be presented in order to prevent miscommunication, which leads to mistakes, which lead to an unpleasant experience with your boss. 

  • Mlrichards90

     I am currently a front desk clerk at a hotel. I believe being specific and precise in both career life and everyday life is essential. People make mistakes, simple human error, so checking your list twice and three times to make sure it meets perfection is key to success. I have had situations where I make reservations and when I confirm the reservation saying both the day and the date, you would be surprised how many times there was a mistake in the reservation. For example, they may think May 14th is a Friday when it is really a Thursday, and so on. I believe honesty is another characteristic that makes for an excellent employee. Speaking the truth while staying true to others is key. The truth doesn’t have to be necessarily rude, everything can be sugar coated. You just have to know how to talk to people while having a full understanding of the type of person your are talking to, as that also plays an important role. Being detail oriented and truthful will lessen the chances of confusion building up in the work environment. I have learned in the past 4 years at the hotel that these characteristics play a vital role in making your work world less stressful and making communication clearer. These tips are very helpful to me and I am very glad I read this article. 

  • nate

    the excellent book ‘fierce conversations’ expands on the idea of being brave, clear, and graceful in addressing difficult but important topics that are far too easy to procrastinate or ignore. chosen for top 75 websites for your career

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About the author


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