My wife is a master at reading people and situations. Whether my genetic code lacks that piece or I’m over-reliant on her magic powers, picking up on subtleties has always been a struggle. My solution has been to ask colleagues to be direct, even blunt, when delivering information or providing direction. Most of the time it works, and I’ve given that advice to others who share my condition.
To my wife’s credit (and as a testimony to her saint-like patience), my request has always been met with tact and diplomacy. That’s not always the case in the workplace.
Recently, I’ve noticed a dark side to this kind of transparency. Perhaps it’s human nature, but there are those who hear the word “blunt” and mentally translate that into “bludgeon,” especially if this relational request was delivered to a superior. The pressure of responsibility, the frustration stemming from subordinate inaction or misinterpretation … I get it. Just keep in mind that, as a general rule, people tend to respond poorly to verbal beatings.
I’ve modified my advice-giving ways to include a balancing caveat – “and don’t put up with abuse.” All relationships are two-sided. If you struggle like I do with the “suggestive” approach and ask people to be more direct, make sure you let them know when they’ve crossed the line.
And for my part, I’m continuing the study of people so I can get better at non-verbal cues, heading off potential conflict before it takes root!