Bluntness Checklist: Are You Brutally Blunt or Helpfully Honest?

Bluntness Checklist: 7 Steps From Brutally Blunt to Helpfully Honest

We all benefit when we communicate honestly and clearly. It minimizes confusion and speeds success. Yet there is a big difference between being brutally blunt vs. honest and clear.

Here’s a 7 step bluntness checklist to get you easily from blunt to honest.

Bluntness Checklist: Image is a square-headed comic figure

Bluntness Checklist:7 Steps from Brutally Blunt to Helpfully Honest

Image by: Nomadic Lass via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Bluntness Checklist: 7 Steps From Brutally Blunt to Helpfully Honest

How do you want people to feel when you are communicating? Bruised and battered? Clear and uplifted?

What image do they have of you when you are communicating? Do they see you as emotionally intelligent and honest or brutally blunt?

This bluntness checklist is an emotionally intelligent guide.

    #1 Honor people as well as your purpose and message.

      Much of the bluntness comes from focusing purely on the message you want to deliver. Oddly enough, it makes the message less clear because your emotion packed statement blocks listening.

      Before speaking, ask yourself what impact your words will have on others. Honesty without honoring the human comes out as blunt. This is why honor heads up the bluntness checklist. Be honest with care not blunt with emotion.

    #2 Openness to other possibilities makes you less blunt.

      What you say is rarely an absolute fact. There are perspective, conditions, opinions, other possibilities to consider. When you communicate from this belief, you are more likely to have an honest dialogue with people instead of a blunt monologue.

    #3 Never start a sentence with the word “you” in difficult situations.

      Imagine saying, “You aren’t doing your job” or “You are failing badly.” Starting with “you” comes across as a blunt attack and breeds a defensive reply.

      Instead, start with “We expect _______ and this is what you are doing _______. Let’s talk about changes _________.” Now the person can hear your message with specifics on what to change.

    #4 Emotion in negative situations will come out as brutally blunt.

      First say, “Let’s put aside my emotion for a moment” and then communicate. It shows the other person you want to speak honestly without insulting them. If some of it comes out blunt, at least they will know you are trying.

      However, do not use this intro as a justification for being blunt. It doesn’t work. More of your words must honor with honesty than bruise with bluntness.

    #5 Sense of proportion reduces the brutality.

      Bluntness, by definition, is the extreme of communication. Bluntness is emotion packed. Ask yourself, why must I use this extreme and inflict scars? What words, with better proportion, can clearly communicate my message?

    #6 Timing and tone of voice transform results.

      When some people read the word timing, they assume delay. Although you might choose to delay speaking, there are times you can’t or shouldn’t. Yet timing also means the pace of your speech.

      The faster you speak in tough moments, the more brutal it sounds. Meanwhile, speaking too slowly or softly can sound patronizing.

      A normal even pace of speech communicates honesty avoids bluntness. This is why timing is on the bluntness checklist.

    #7 Yes. Thinking “agreement” makes you less blunt.

      Insults rarely produce a yes. Helpful honesty does. If you want to influence, think yes. Replace negative emotion with positive desire — what you want vs. what you don’t want. It transforms your communication from hurtful and blunt to honest and positive.

      Even if agreement is not your goal, think “yes” and your words will be more helpfully honest not brutally blunt.

Respect is the key to being honest vs. blunt. It allows you to honor people as well as your own message. If you disagree, state your view with calmness and respect for others.

The question people often ask me: Are there people with whom you must be brutally blunt? No. I have met people who don’t understand subtle communication. In those moments, I was more direct not brutally blunt. I still respected them. I communicated honestly not bluntly.

This 7 step bluntness checklist will transform any blunt communication into helpful honesty. It’s worth it!

What extra steps are on your bluntness checklist?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

Related Post:
People Skills: 9 Hidden Places to Discover Your Empathy
Emotional Intelligence: 10 Ways to Work w/ Immature Teammates

©2011-2015 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email for permission and guidelines. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.



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32 Responses to “Bluntness Checklist: Are You Brutally Blunt or Helpfully Honest?”

  1. Hi Kate,
    I really like this post. As someone who has battled with being brutally blunt in the past, this really resonated with me. As a fellow coach I would say that your advice on this could not be more sound. Thanks – a very interesting post.
    Regards Beverley

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Honored that you have contributed to this post and grateful that you found it valuable. I hope you, as a colleague, will lend your insight to any post of interest here at Smart SenseAbilities. Next week I will have at least 2 new posts — one on customer service for National Customer Service week and one on leadership and people skills.

      Warmest regards and have a great weekend.

  2. I love this list, Kate. It’s one of my pet hates when people use bluntness but call it honesty. Honesty doesn’t have to hurt people and you’ve identified 7 great ways to prove that. I love that at the heart of your tips is a true sense of empathy, and that’s the key to being honest: you don’t have to agree with me but I’d prefer you told me so with some respect for my feelings.

  3. If I were to add a number 8 it would be this: Leave your ego at home. It helps to remember that it’s not about making you look or feel good but about helping the other person see things from another perspective.

  4. Tim Young says:

    Hey Kate,

    Thanks for sharing this good insight. Here is what I have learned…there is always more to the story behind every person. Not saying that one should be taken advantage of, but there is wisdom in taking a step back and trying to step into another persons shoes before engaging.

    Check out this video:


    btw, love the graphic 😉


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks Tim — I’ll take a look at the video. And I do agree that there’s almost always a way to see the other view and work it out.
      Best wishes,

    • Tim

      Excellent video suggestion:)

      I had seen this before, but lost it in the midst of the online noise. Appreciate you bringing it back “into focus” for me and others.


  5. Jim Morgan says:

    I think your excellent steps fit perfectly with the psychology of communication, Kate. I could write a long post on the reasons blunt people should learn to soften their statements out of pure self-interest—and why so many of them resist doing so. Instead, I’ll assume anyone reading this far knows they are too blunt and want to change. To that end, I suggest the following rules based on scientific research about persuasion and teamwork:

    * Do not make statements questioning the intelligence, character, or motivations of people who disagree with you.

    * Do not recite your experience as a reason to cut off debate. If you don’t have facts and logic to back your position, it is probably wrong.

    * If you’ll forgive me quoting myself, from my book, “The SuddenTeams Program”: “Never communicate in writing information that could cause negative emotions in the recipient… Without the context of voice tone and body language, people tend to assume the worst about the other person’s emotional state.”

    * If you’re in a bad mood, say so. People can forgive some bluntness when they know it is not directed at them.

    * Never give “just the facts.” Without context, you will lose persuasiveness and be viewed as blunt.

    * Remember that you can be truthful and direct without being rude, and abruptness is considered rude by the majority of people.

    In short, the issue is not the “what” of the message, but the “how.” Over repeated interactions, research suggests you will have more success by controlling the way you say things.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Exactly Jim. You and I as professional colleagues share this view — that it’s not what you say, it is how you say it AND your mindset determines how you say it.

      Best wishes,

  6. I love this post Kate. Your posts are always provocative. Plus, you achieve a great balance between theory and practical, actionable advice. I’m definitely going to come back in a week and reread this post. It’s a GREAT reminder.

    Have a wonderful day!


  7. Anne Egros says:

    HI Kate , I really love both the design and the content of your post. Being blunt is sometimes a cultural trait. In some cultures being direct and telling the truth without sugar coating on it is simply the way people learned to communicate. Of course this doesn’t work and “culture” should never been used as an excuse for hurting people.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks for bringing in the cultural angle on this post. I do think some people “learn” to be blunt — and the good news is they can unlearn it too.

      BTW: How was your NYC trip?

      Have a super weekend.

  8. Guy Farmer says:

    Great points Kate. Another thing I’ve found helpful in delivering a message with kindness is to listen to people’s feedback and ideas once you’ve been honest with them. It can lead to new opportunities to deal with the issue at hand.

  9. Tara Alemany says:

    Great post, Kate! It’s funny, the timing of it… I had two conversations today where potentially difficult information needed to be communicated in order to honor existing relationships.

    One was with a client, where uncommunicated expectations hadn’t been met. I was surprised with the situation, but was pleased that my client took the time to express his disappointment so that I had the opportunity to set things right. He could have been frustrated and let that simmer between us, or worse yet, he could have taken his business elsewhere. Instead, he took the time to be honest and open about it, which was great for both of us! While conflict is never a happy thing, it’s always better to work through it than to bury it.

    The second instance was in the context of a personal relationship. It did start out with blunt words being exchanged, and that immediately made it so that neither of us was really listening to the other. Thankfully, we both recognized that, set a time to regroup later in the day that was convenient for both of us, and then were able to meet and talk things through so that we were both satisfied with the outcome. It’s important in those circumstances both to feel as though you are being heard, and that you are hearing what’s being said. In the “heat of the moment,” we each had the wherewithal to recognize that we weren’t able to do either. So, agreeing to talk later with the expressed purpose of working things out made the situation non-confrontational, and gave us each the opportunity to think through what it was that we really wanted to communicate.

    My only regret? That I hadn’t read your post at the start of the day rather than the end! 🙂

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Your personal stories expand so well on this post. Everyone has these moments and reflecting on them later could actually be #8 on this list.

      Lessons learned (pos/neg) breed changes in behavior that really “stick”.

      So grateful that you shared your stories hear fora ll to learn.

      Have a “helpfully honest” weekend. 🙂

  10. Julie Byrd says:

    Some of your posts are timed to where I think you can read my mind. Just yesterday I had to check myself on being too blunt! As someone who has also battled with being brutally blunt, I appreciate the reminder so that I can be at my best.

    Thanks Kate!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Julie,
      Well I’m not psychic yet many of my clients tell me “It’s as if you know what we are all thinking!”

      I am gratified that my posts are of value and welcome your comments, questions, and stories any time.
      Warmest wishes,

  11. Jen Kuhn says:

    Excellent post, Kate. Many could benefit from reading it. You incorporate skills necessary for any type of relationship in regard to healthy, productive communication.

  12. Kate, Really like these 7 and the visual display you used in presenting them. I would add to think long-term about the relationship before you say something you may regret or the other person may resent. This ties in with #1, honoring and respecting the individual you’re addressing. Even if they don’t remember the exact words you use, they’ll remember the tone of voice and how you made them feel. If the impact is negative, trust can be undermined. And once damaged or destroyed, trust takes a long time to restore…if it ever can be.

  13. Hi, Kate

    Well, shoot, almost everything has already been said about this awfully well-crafted and useful post.

    Two things will create a lot of responses to something we post online: Controversy and Truth.

    I don’t see much to argue about in your thoughtful observations of how we can speak the truth as a help to others instead of as a weapon.

    The number of positive and intelligent responses I see here reinforce that you speak truth we need to hear.

    I was reminded of a film from some years back entitled “Only The Lonely” which included a main theme of how devastating “telling it like it is” can be for human relationships. Your post adds the important element of showing us how we can do better.

    Thanks for sharing this:)


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi John,
      I have the movie “Only the Lonely” on DVD and every time I watch it — I think what a great examples of the harm done when the human is overlooked by the message.
      As you say, using the truth as a weapon bears no thought or thoughtfulness and the results can be disastrous.

      So glad to see your “adds” to my posts.
      Warm regards,

  14. Don Johnson says:

    Hi Kate,
    Great 7 points! I love the HONESTY acronym used. Good feedback from readers as well. I wish I could come sit through some of your training.

    My favorite word in customer service training is “compassion”. I train medical clinic, tribal police and social services staffs and some think customer service doesn’t pertain to them. Talking to them about compassion and not knowing what your customer/client has been through before coming in for their appt. is crucial. Some may have had a bad day or week, etc. What a few replies above began to touch on; have compassion…”Did they lose a loved one? Are they clinically depressed? Could they afford anything to eat today? Are they sleeping at night? Have you walked in their shoes? “. A powerful statement I like to use to express this is, “they are a human being first, then an employee (or customer, client, patient, etcetera).
    Keep up the good work! Warm regards…from your EC classmate.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Don,
      I echo your words “they are a human being first”! This is the essence.
      So pleased to have you contribute to this post or any post here at Smart SenseAbilities and especially grateful for a continued connection to an EC classmate.
      Best wishes Don.

  15. Heather Park says:

    Really enjoyed this article Thank you once again for the ideas.

  16. Mary H. says:

    Great article! I know someone who is brutally blunt with her opinions with complete disregard to others feelings or views. I tried explaining it to her but she seemed offended by what I was saying.
    How would you suggest that I suggest this article to someone without their being offended, yet get her to read each and maybe change her way of relaying her thoughts? Thanks

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Mary,
      Is this person a personal friend, a family member, or a work colleague? Pls. let me know so I can answer your question. It’s a very interesting situation.

      Thanks … I await your response.

  17. Judith says:

    Hi Kate,

    I read your post and I thought your message was clear and I can definitely apply your ideas to change my thinking. Specifically was has made me blunt is that fact that I have always had a passive demeanor and unfortunate events happened to me as a result of of not expressive my thoughts; hence, why now I’m so brutally honest because I subconsciously and maybe not so subconsciously I never want to be in such a vulnerable position. Any words of wisdoms for my particular position. Thanks! Keep writing!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Judith,
      I am impressed with your self-awareness. So many people don’t know the reasons for their bluntness. The situation you describe is one I lived through years back. When we don’t express our thoughts/feelings early on, the emotion builds up and explodes out in bluntness.

      One way to prevent this is to live with the mantra speak sooner. Not with rudeness or accusation but with calm assertion of your needs and views. To get to this point, spend a bit of time thinking of why you don’t speak sooner.

      With your willingness and ability for self-awareness, I think you will do very well!

      Warmest wishes,

      • Judith says:

        Thank you so much for your input greatly appreciated.

        That’s a great mantra which I can hopefully adopt. I used to hold back because I was afraid of hurting other’s feelings. I happen to be a highly sensitive person. I tell myself most people are not nearly as sensitive as I am; as a result, I’m not quite sure when Im being too considerate or being insensitive. Now I say exactly whats on my mind at the wrong times and sometimes without a filter. I used to keep in mind that the feelings of others came first, but took it to far to the point where I am pretty dissatisfied with people bc of what I allowed. Sounds pessimistic I know, but I am working on it.

        • Kate Nasser says:

          Hi Judith,
          “Working on it” is exactly what we all must do! You’ve lived the extremes and now you seek balance. Keep practicing — the results are worth it.

          Many thanks for taking time to share your personal story here.

          Warmest wishes,

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