I had a conversation with a colleague this week that brought to mind an intriguing question. He said, “I am not rude or blunt. I am just honest and direct.” The question that intrigued me is this: What exactly is the difference between these four styles? AND, is there ever a time when each of them would be appropriate?

As I have often expressed, our goal as communicators is to allow all people to feel comfortable and respected in our presence while standing our own ground and getting our message across. So, let’s look at each style individually in light of that objective.

Honest – (Merriam Webster) Definition: truthful or creditable, honorable in principles, intentions, and actions; upright and fair

I believe that honesty is absolutely imperative. Other people will not feel comfortable and treated with respect in your presence if they don’t believe what you say. Therefore, you can’t be an effective communicator if you are not honest. It is a non-negotiable characteristic of respectful communication. I also believe it is important to be honest without being harsh.

Being honest therefore meets the challenge of our goal as communicators.

Direct – (Merriam Webster) Definition: straightforward; frank; candid, without intervening influences, factors or filters

Respectful communication is usually direct. My mother always told me to “not run around the barn verbally just to get to the front door.” Meryl Runion worded it more effectively (sorry Mom) in her book Power Phrases. “Say what you mean. Mean what you say, and don’t be mean when you say it.” That is profound in its simplicity.

I say respectful communication is usually direct, because sometimes to avoid being harsh, it is best to be more circumspect, or to be silent. Sometimes, what needs to be told to be truthful, is not OUR truth to tell. The measure that I challenge myself with is, “Is it true? Is kind? Is it NECESSARY?”

Therefore, being direct USUALLY meets the challenge of our goal as communicators.

Blunt – (Merriam Webster) Definition: abrupt in address or manner, slow in perception or understanding

Respectful communication is rarely blunt. To be blunt is to speak without thinking about the consequences of your words and how they may be perceived by others. The Colonel phrase was this, “Lauren Ann, activate your brain BEFORE you engage your mouth.” It is always in our best interests to think before we speak.

I say respectful communication is rarely blunt, because there are some situations when it is necessary for safety or clarity to just blurt out what needs to be said. (The building’s on fire! GET OUT!) We hope these are few and far between.

Being blunt, therefore RARELY meets the challenge of our goal as communicators.

Rude – (Merriam Webster) Definition: discourteous or impolite, especially in a deliberate way.

I cannot imagine a situation wherein being rude (as defined by Merriam Webster, being deliberately discourteous) ever meets the standard of respectful communication. The operative word here is deliberate. Making a conscious choice to make someone uncomfortable or feel disrespected is never an effective means of communication. There may be other rationale that someone could use to try and justify being rude, but as an avenue for effective communication is not going to be one of them.

Therefore, being rude does NOT meet the challenge of our goal as communicators.

I encourage you to always keep our goal as communicators in mind (first and foremost to allow all people to feel comfortable and respected in our presence – because that is when influence happens – while we stand our own ground and we get our message across), and to measure everything that you say and do against that objective.

I hope that in helping defining this for myself, it helped to clarify it for you as well.