Bluntness and the Art of Empathy

Grumpy Cat meme - Hurt your feelings? Too Bad!We all know at least one of them; one person who is, to put it politely, continually blunt.

That’s the type of person who has no problem saying exactly what she thinks, no matter the fallout. Often they’re surprised when people get offended by what and how they say things. Usually, they are the nicest people. It’s just that their mouths engage before their minds can stop them.

I was related to someone like that. It took a long, long time for me to understand that what he was saying wasn’t malicious; it was just unfiltered. And it’s not like I haven’t said some things at times in ways I wish I hadn’t.

It’s hard to revise in the middle of a conversation, especially when emotions run high. We often lose our empathy when we’re hurrying to slip something into the conversation. In the heat of verbal battle, we forget that words can sting – for a long time.

When we write, we have the luxury of time to revise. We have strategies and techniques to give bad news without too much offense. Although I’m not a big fan of passive voice, it is a perfect way to depersonalize a situation to make it more palatable.

Revision is vital – vital, I say – when writing sensitive things, especially in business. We need to put things aside for a while and come back pretending to be the reader.

We have to ask, “How would I feel if I received this?”

Now, I’m not advocating lying or putting too much “spin” on a situation. That just makes people distrust you. What I’m saying is, present sensitive information as if you and the reader, two reasonable people, are examining the circumstances like amoebas under a microscope. Show the reader.

“There you are,” you say. “This is the way it is.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

Is there a place for bluntness? Yes, there are times when people have to be shaken out of their apathy. However, we need to use it judiciously. We can’t swing bluntness around like a club, or a lot people will get hurt unnecessarily. And it can demolish our chances to maintain a fruitful relationship.

I was talking with someone and said how mystified I was at the meteoric rise of a certain presidential candidate because of the verbiage he was spouting.

“People want honesty,” she said.

“You can be honest without being offensive,” I replied.

That’s my policy, and I’m sticking with it.


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