A Communication Style that Stinks

Portrait of confused clueless young man against white background

Last week I met Ani at a workshop I was giving. Ani is a very direct communicator and she feels strongly that her own blunt style of communication is best. She has no intention of changing her style and, in fact, has many reasons why she won’t change.

She told me about a co-worker who has a body odour problem. Ani flat-out told him that he “stinks.” She was very surprised when I questioned her approach to the situation.

She told me that her colleagues often complain about her negativity and the fact that she habitually points out what other people are doing wrong. She has many explanations about why she communicates this way but at the end of the day, they are all just excuses. She doesn’t want to change and she expects others to just accept that she has a sharp tongue. She says they just have to understand that that’s the way she is.

Have you ever said, “That’s just the way I am”? Have you ever used excuses to explain why you shouldn’t have to change and why other people should just accept you the way you are?

See if any of these excuses sound familiar:

  • I’m always late. It will never change, you’ll just have to get used to the fact that I don’t run on the same clock as everyone else.
  • I’m too old to worry about my appearance. This is the natural me, and worrying about my clothes and hair is too much of a bother. Love me like this, or don’t love me at all.
  • I’m a naturally creative person and I like to work in a chaotic environment. I shouldn’t have to clean up my desk just because other people think I’m messy.
  • I wasn’t taught computers and technology in school and I don’t think I should have to learn about them.
  • I like things done my way. I’m not inconveniencing anyone by changing things over to my way, so why do they care?
  • I’m too old to change.
  • My way is better. If I just show you the right way you can learn, too.
  • I don’t need any more friends, so why should I be friendly at work?

I realize that there are some things that are personality-driven. Some people are good with details and some aren’t. Some people are very direct in their style of communication, and some people take forever to get to the point.

And yes, our styles come to us naturally. However, I don’t think that means that other people have to accept us as “just the way we are” when in reality we can teach ourselves to be more aware of how our words and actions are interpreted by others.

We always need to be aware of the impact our words and actions have on other people.

Take Ani’s co-worker with body odour. When I pointed out to Ani that her blunt statement about him stinking was rude, she didn’t agree. She said that he had to know that he stank and needed to be told to fix it immediately. When I pointed out that he probably didn’t know he even had a body odour issue and was more than likely mortified to be informed of it, she said that her way of dealing with things was efficient.

I asked her if she cared that she had embarrassed her co-worker. Her response was to give me all kinds of excuses to justify her behaviour. She said things like: She wasn’t born here, he is too sensitive, hinting around the issue was never going to work, she’d asked HR to take care of it and they clearly didn’t, and on and on.

The bottom line is that she doesn’t want to change, and she isn’t concerned about her co-worker’s feelings. Nothing I can say will make her see that there are negative consequences to her actions, and that her blunt communication style is likely affecting her career.

Ani is justifying why she shouldn’t change, when the real issue is that she doesn’t want to change.

I couldn’t work with, or be a friend of, Ani’s. It matters to me how my words and actions are seen by others. I don’t ever want to insult people or be intentionally rude. And I certainly don’t want to hide behind a wall of excuses.

Not everything about me is perfect, and those situations in which I do need to adjust “me” are not easy. But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do it.

Do you make excuses for your poor behaviour? The bottom line is: we all have a choice about how we treat others, and excuses just don’t cut it.


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5 thoughts on “A Communication Style that Stinks”

  1. This article hits home with a co-worker I’m having troubles with. She is always negative, has diabetics, and is always complaining. As she serves on a SHARE committee (a volunteer organization within our company to support our employees) with me and others, she is wrecking havoc on a job she volunteered for. An outside vendor delivers books every 6-8 weeks for employees to purchase. SHARE receives a portion of the proceeds from the sales. She has informed the vendor he cannot deliver the order on Mon or Fri–she’s too busy. This week she added the stipulation she wants a schedule when he will be here. Others help her with the order, but she wants to be in control and throw her weight around. Hopefully we can convince her we are here to serve the employees with this book sale, and don’t want to lose this vendor. She has always been focal about food served for recognition lunches, special treats, etc. that she is diabetic and we don’t have anything for her to eat. I suspect we have others with diabetics in the office and they don’t make a fuss. Not sure we can wait a couple years for her retirment to roll around. I would love to print this article and give to her, but not sure it would be well received.

    1. Have you considered printing the articles and posting it on a notice board in a lunch room or other common area? We had a very vocal person who was always right, felt the need to police others’ behaviour and would bad-mouth anyone who dare contradict or stand up to her (with explanations of why her behaviour was the only way to deal with it). I started posting articles about positive communication and building a great team environment on common-area notice boards. I’m not sure if she read them, but others did. When our office offender was away for a few weeks, other staff removed the “reminder” notes she had posted all over the common areas (detailing how she expected others to behave) and the mood in the entire office changed. She found when she came back that the office environment was more positive and no one was willing to tolerate the negative work environment she created. She has since dialled back the negativitly and is a much easier person to work with. I don’t usually endorse a passive-aggressive approach, but it worked.

  2. Some people need to learn how to “adult.”
    Being late happens. We all should strive to be timely.
    People should be aware of their professional appearance. Neat, clean, professional. Not, frumpy, wrinkled and untidy.
    I’m not one to tell how others should keep their desk. Your efficiency does relate to how organized you are.
    If you utilize technology, you should be kept abreast of it.
    A lot of people don’t like change. But, we are all pretty much adaptable.
    Some people’s way is better. Some people’s way isn’t.
    Some people may not need any more friends. And you don’t necessarily go to work to gain friends. And I think it should be more of a goal to BE friendly rather than attempt to BE friends. Just my thoughts.

  3. This article speaks to me big time. I actually use the phrase, “this is just the way I am,” often enough, however, I am also willing to learn how to communicate so that I don’t offend others. I admire people who wear, “respect for others” on their sleeve, so to speak. But, I have also felt, often, that others expected me to change to their liking, but they weren’t willing to put in the effort,themselves; so a healthy dose of, “this is who I am, like it or leave it”, was essential to my claiming my own being and maintaining self respect. Still, learning the art of respectful communication in conjunction to honoring who I am is something I could have benefited from learning in my earlier years, vs. now, in my 50s. I could have ruled the world, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

  4. I am direct, but I do my best to make sure I am not rude or hurt feelings. I know sometimes I am taken differently then I intend, so I try to adjust to the person I am speaking with. However, I am not always successful and that makes me feel bad. I make it a point to apologize when that happens.

    I do know people that don’t and I will never understand intentionally not caring about someone else’s feelings.

    Unfortunately, there is very little you can do to change someone who doesn’t care.

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