By Melissa B. Doman, M.A.
Written for & published by In Her Shoes Foundation (Feb 2015)
“Men understand direct communication. It’s bitches who speak code.” – Kristen Ashley (New York Times Best Selling Author)
OK! Now that I’ve gotten your attention from a hilarious and slightly inflammatory quote, time to touch on a taboo topic: gender and communication styles.
It’s been characteristically taught to women that we need to be more ‘gentle’ or ‘considerate’ communicators so we can get our messages across to people while making sure we are simultaneously taking care of their needs. While this sounds good from a theoretical stance, in practice, it’s exhausting, inefficient, and such a burden.
Hate to break it to you folks, but this communication dance does nothing positive for you or the folks around you. When you’re trying to say things more gently in 100 ambiguous words, when it could be done in 40, it does nothing but extend conversations and create unnecessary stress and tension for you.
Keep in mind, I’m not talking about communicating like a bullet train without regard for civility. I’m talking about speaking your words mindfully and with purpose. Unfortunately, and especially as a woman, you may get some flack or pushback for being direct and having no nonsense in how you speak. To that I say, give those folks the proverbial middle finger and move on with your day.
Just because there are certain societal norms that dictate how women are supposed to communicate doesn’t mean you have to fall in line too. Being a direct communicator…get ready for this….is a great exercise in being clear about what your needs, wants, and feelings are so they actually get fulfilled. No need to feel guilty for this, even if people around you make you feel like you should.
A concrete example to illustrate what I’m talking about would be something like the following.
Indirect communication: “Umm, I kind of want to do this, but tell me what you prefer.”
Direct communication: “I would like to do this activity. What would you like to do? Maybe we can agree on something mutually.”
The differences are subtle, but very impactful. The indirect communication is very wishy-washy and puts the decision making power into the hands of the other person, while totally ignoring your needs. The direct communication states what you want to do clearly, is considerate by asking what the other person would like, and offers a solution strategy of negotiation.
For those of you who get uncomfortable at the idea of being concrete and direct, please rest assured that stating your needs in a clear way won’t make the people around you burst into flames. I promise.
People who are indirect communicators unfortunately struggle with caring too much about the needs of others around them, or even struggle with symptoms of co-dependency, ultimately leaving them feeling dissatisfied or potentially resentful. Herein is the beauty of using direct communication strategies. You can explain and advocate for your own needs in a respectful clear way and simultaneously gather input from those around you.
Yes….the two can actually co-exist. I know, mind, – BLOWN!
When putting direct communication strategies into place, it’s helpful to be mindful of the following:
- Being direct does NOT mean being harsh, rude, or aggressive. No need to be an animal here.
- If you’re going to be direct, be mindful in choosing your words if you want to be clearly understood.
- If you ruffle peoples feathers by being direct and not dancing around issues or topics, be ready to explain that you feel communicating directly is more efficient, honest, and should help to reach goals or resolutions in a more effective way. Be especially ready to explain this to people if you haven’t been a direct communicator before.
For those of you who’d like some reassurance from a higher power, The Mayo Clinic put a lovely article together in May 2014, illustrating the benefits of being a direct communicator, which included the following:
- Gain self-confidence and self-esteem
- Understand and recognize your feelings
- Earn respect from others
- Improve communication
- Create win-win situations
- Improve your decision-making skills
- Create honest relationships
- Gain more job satisfaction
Being a direct assertive communicator can be used in all areas of your life, so start experimenting! For those of you who are slow to warm up and just want to dip your toe in the water, try to experiment within one area of life first (i.e. work or your relationships with friends), then go from there. Adopting this kind of communication style is a mindset change, so the ripple effects of it throughout your life are pretty awesome.