Master the Art of “Respectful Truth-Telling”

By expressing your feelings and needs in a direct, honest way, you can handle just about any situation that comes up.

by Jackie Gaines
Two men having a serious conversation
You can make yourself heard and influence your organization without being loud, rude, arrogant or disrespectful.

When you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, it’s best to be prepared. Having an idea of the actual words you plan to use ahead of time makes the experience easier and will help you feel calm and in control during the discussion.

Below are four examples of “respectful truth-telling” that you can add to your assertiveness toolbox. Once you have some experience speaking your mind while still being respectful to the other person or people, you will find your own words to use. But for now, here is some language to get you started.

Situation: How to say “no”

  • No, but thanks for thinking of me.
  • I am not comfortable with that.
  • Your timing is not good; maybe another time.
  • Thank you for this opportunity, but this really does not work for me right now.
  • This is not the right direction for me. Thanks anyway.

Situation: Asking for what you want

  • I am confused. Can you help me understand?
  • Excuse me, can I have ______?
  • I could really use your support in ______.
  • Can we talk about an area where I need some additional support or resources?

Situation: When you are put down in front of others

  • [Privately] Can we discuss what happened in the meeting today? When you said ______, it made me feel ______. (Remember to discuss only how their remarks made you feel. No one can take that away from you.) I would have appreciated if it could have been said to me in private if you are concerned with my performance. Thank you for listening and allowing me to share.

Situation: Seeking common ground

  • I can see why you believe the way you do. I am concerned about that, too. I want the same things as you do. My solutions are different from yours because I came to believe something new from these particular experiences.

Assertiveness is an art form that you can utilize and refine throughout your career. Although you might still be judged negatively by some for being direct and bold at any time, when you are diplomatically assertive, you are more likely to get what you want. PM

Jackie Gaines is an executive-level coach, national speaker and author of Wearing the Yellow Suit: A Guide for Women in Leadership. 

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