Directness vs. Diplomacy

As you may know, I write a business etiquette column for the Puget Sound Business Journal. Each week when the Journal arrives I eagerly open it up to the “Growing your Business” section to see if my latest column has run. Seeing my name in print is still exciting.

When my column isn’t running, I enjoy reading the other PSBJ columnists. One of my favorite writers is Lynn Parker with Parker LePla, a brand strategy consulting firm located in Seattle. I actually worked with Lynn’s firm on a rebrand project at my last corporate job. But, I digress.

Lynn’s latest article was about courageous honesty. She talked about how she tends to be blunt and direct for better and worse. She writes, “The way I see it, one can make people feel good, and let them keep making critical mistakes, or one can actually help people by giving them some tough love and straight talk. The trick is to know when diplomacy is better than brutality, and then to apply it correctly…”

This resonated with me because I too have been known to be direct and sometimes even blunt. However, it runs counter to being a mannerly person. There is a saying that goes something like this, “etiquette is knowing which fork to use, manners is not saying something when your neighbor doesn’t.” A mannerly person would never tell someone they are doing something wrong because that would be rude and would make somoene uncomfortable.

So, when do you say something? Lynn suggests you only do so when it will help someone, such as a person who asked for an informational interview and then expected Lynn to do all the work. Part of me says, yes, that would be helpful to the person as they need to know how to correctly conduct an informational interview so that they have success finding a job. While that is something I teach people as an etiquette consultant, I do so when I’m paid. So, the other part or me says, it’s not my place. They didn’t come to me for advice on their networking skills.

A lot of it also has to do with the delivery. If you make the person feel wrong or bad, it’s never correct. However, if you can deliver the feedback in a helpful, kind way and it comes from a place of caring rather than righteousness or judgment then I believe it’s OK.

Readers, what say you? If you were doing something that was hindering your success would you want someone to say something or do you feel that’s poor etiquette?

Please note: We have a new method of delivering blog posts to your inbox. If you have previously received these blog posts through Feedburner, please subscribe to receive these blog posts through the form below and unsubscribe to the posts you receive through Feedburner.

Feel free to share:


Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Patty Foley on October 27, 2010 at 9:49 am

    I would definitely want someone to tell me if they felt I was doing something to hinder my success. It’s all in HOW you say it. The key is where you are coming from in the delivery of tough messages – as you mentioned coming from a place of caring, and I would add respect, will definitely affect the delivery, and the reception.

Leave a Comment