This past week I was coaching a new client and we were reviewing information given to me by five colleagues with whom this leader works on a regular basis. Many coaches conduct these stakeholder interviews before commencing a coaching engagement with new clients.

The goal of these interviews is to hold up a mirror to the new clients and help them appreciate how they are perceived by the people with whom they interact on a consistent basis. The coach shares the themes of the feedback with the clients while making sure not to link the names of the interviewees with any particular comments.

During my stakeholder information review with this client, I shared that several people perceived her as blunt in her conversational style and that a few people described her approach as sometimes harsh.

Later in our conversation, when I had completed reviewing the themes of the feedback I had received and asked the client for her reactions – agreement, disagreement, surprise or concern, she chose to discuss the comments about her bluntness or harshness.

She said, “I disagree with those who characterize my bluntness as a weakness. I actually like that part of me. I see it as my superpower.” I reminded her that I had not used the word “weakness” at all. In fact, she was assuming that others had perceived her bluntness as a weakness.

She explained that her bluntness allows her to get to the heart of a matter quickly, it avoids wasting time and it increases her efficiency at her job. She expressed pride in her ability to be blunt and to thus obviate the need for long conversations. She again disagreed with those who saw her bluntness as a weakness and expressed her conviction that for her, bluntness can be a valuable strength.

I smiled at her on Zoom and posed a question: “What if the bluntness that you are so proud of could be both a weakness and a strength?”

She was taken aback and asked me to elaborate.
“What if,” I continued, “your bluntness can be a strength in your communications with some colleagues based upon their perceptions of you, and could be viewed as a challenge by other colleagues based on their own perceptions?”

I reminded this client that people make judgments about us based on their own paradigms and backgrounds. Some people may be perfectly comfortable with bluntness in work conversations because they, like her, value its efficacy in arriving at quick solutions. Other colleagues may perceive bluntness as something uncomfortable and a hurdle that gets in the way of effective communication and problem-solving.

She responded, “That’s very interesting. I never thought about it like that before. Let me think about that mindset for a few days.”

As we continue on our leadership journeys, we can all benefit from replacing our either/or thinking with both/and thinking. One characteristic in our leadership tool kit may be a valuable resource with some colleagues and be an impediment with other colleagues.

So get to know the people with whom you work and learn what communication styles they favor and which approaches work most effectively with each of them.

Your both/and thinking will be very helpful as you strive to become your most effective leadership self.

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