“I know what I want to say, but HOW do I say it without getting ignored or killed?” In my experience as an executive coach, this question stymies women leaders as much as any other issue. Why? Because organizations often require women to operate within a painfully narrow stylistic range: nice, but not TOO nice; strong, but not TOO strong. The metaphor of dancing on the head of a pin comes to mind. How on earth do you navigate this?
Here’s what doesn’t work. It doesn’t work to dilute your message, minimize your strength, or chip away at your authenticity so much that you disappear. Nor does it work to “damn the torpedoes,” just letting your message rip full throttle.
Effective communication, whether at work or at home, often combines toughness and tenderness. If you come from the grit side, it means being direct with heart. If you come from the grace side, it means being kind with a spine.
How do you achieve the balance? The most powerful communication model I’ve found comes not from the worlds of business or communication, but from Buddhist teachings. The principle is called “wise speech.” Wise speech is any message that meets four essential criteria:
Truthful – clear, direct and authentic
Useful – actionable, relevant and intended to be of service to the other person and the situation
Unifying – acknowledges all perspectives, so that everyone’s view has a “place” in the conversation
Kind – respects the dignity, aspirations and frailties of all parties.
‘Truthful’ and ‘useful’ are the grit side of the equation; they contribute clarity and action. But a message delivered with pure grit can get you labeled as aggressive. ’Unifying’ and ‘kind’ are the grace side; they cultivate respect and trust within the conversation. But without the grit elements, you may be at risk of appearing weak. The power is in the blend. Holding your communication to the standards of wise speech is no easy task, but the payoffs can be great.
What about you?
Most of us tend to emphasize just one or two of the wise speech criteria, especially when the message is difficult. Which one(s) do you tend to default to? What are the strengths and limitations of that? (Don’t think about this in the abstract – examine this through the lens of real life situations.)
Which criteria are the most ‘foreign’ to you, or are the ones you most quickly sacrifice when the chips are down? Again, what are the implications of that?
For the next two weeks, try holding your important communications to the four standards of wise speech. Make mental or written notes of what you try, how it works and what you’re learning. And let us know how it goes!
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