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Clear is kind, unclear is unkind

A rule to help guide you when you are struggling to say the awkward thing.

I am terrified of awkwardness. I know nobody likes an awkward moment, but for me it’s downright crippling. I’ve walked out of the room during awkward moments on TV shows. I once faked internet issues to get out of an uncomfortable work call. I’m a huge fan of the Irish goodbye, because dealing with the not-sure-if-we-should-hug thing sucks. It’s been a serious problem in my life.

And wouldn’t you know it – I also hate giving people news that might upset them. Because that’s often pretty dang awkward. I’ve gotten good at figuring out ways to avoid it without feeling like I avoided it. For example:

  • I’ve given negative feedback about something tiny in hopes that it would solve the bigger and more critical problem. That way, I could avoid the awkwardness of talking about the critical problem. Spoiler: it never worked.
  • I’ve flat out avoided giving negative feedback “they’re already dealing with a lot.” Or sometimes I’d tell myself “I’m going to wait until I have a better example to use, or else it wouldn’t be fair to them.” Who knows how many other excuses I’ve used.
  • I’ve given negative feedback that came from me, but I pitched it like it didn’t. For example: “I don’t think this, but I’m wondering if <a coworker> may think it, from their point of view.”

In that way, I convince my monkey brain that I’m being caring because I’m still “delivering feedback” just without the hurt feelings, right? But no, I’m being a jerk, because clear is kind, and unclear is unkind.

I don’t know where this first came from, but I heard it from Brené Brown and it was a smack in the face. If I’m not being clear, then I’m being unkind. Period. No matter how much I can try to convince myself that it’s not that simple, it really is.

I am changed. With this as my guiding principle, I’m confident giving tough feedback no matter how awkward it might be. Anything else would be unkind. And even though I hate awkwardness, I hate being unkind even more.