“I am usually very honest and tell it like it is at work. Honesty is the best policy. However, you have to have a certain finesse when letting someone know they need to improve on their skills”, was a recent comment received by email on Why Being Real is so Difficult.

The point she is making is valid providing you are communicating effectively. I will tell you a story to illustrate what I mean.

A situation arose where my boss was dissatisfied with some of the things her assistant was doing. They had been working together for a while and as we know, some things just are not addressed because we want to preserve the relationship.

The issues are minor, so it is time for self-talk: it really does not matter, I can make adjustments or they will figure it out. After awhile, those little things begin to gnaw at you enough and it is time to have the conversation!

I had firsthand knowledge of the issues because I was the one who listened to the boss wrestle with what to do. The situation escalated quickly when another incident caused a major problem; she was going to have the talk with her assistant later that day.

My relationship with the assistant was good too, and knew if there was venting, I would probably be the one to hear about it.

I passed by the office, the assistant was absent and the boss’s office door was closed – the conversation was underway. About 45 minutes later, I stopped by the area and the assistant was sitting there in a daze. I thought, hmm…the message must have been a tough one.

I was wrong.

I asked if everything was OK, and the response was…”I was just in there with the boss and I do not know why. I think she was trying to tell me something, but for the life of me, I am unsure what she was trying to say.”

Now it was my turn to deliver some feedback to the boss.

“The message you intended to deliver did not get heard”, I said. She looked at me with disbelief. She thought she was conveying the message clearly with sensitivity or as some would say finesse.

Delivering difficult news was tough for her. She thought if she gave out the feedback in small doses or in a general way, the employee would be more receptive to feedback. Instead, the employee left confused, knowing something was wrong and wondering how to correct it.

I share this story because I think it happens more than we care to admit. There is a balance between being too harsh and soft-pedaling our message. I have known people who say, unless you shoot me between the eyes, I will not get the message. Likewise, others recoil if there are any undertones of negativity.

The question: Am I stepping up to what I need to do to get the message across to the employee?

The point is you are trying to get their attention. It is time to do something different. People do not change their behavior unless the thought of not changing is less desirable.

If the message you are delivering is constructive in nature, expect there to be a little discomfort. If uneasiness is absent, rethink if the message clearly defines the issue and lays out what to do differently to resolve it – in the delivery style that they understand.

Check to gauge understanding by asking the person what they heard. If you believe, you are being straightforward and clear, possible exceptions where reactions are absent include:

  • they have heard this before and there have not been consequences
  • they just do not care
  • they hide their emotions very well

Those reactions lead to different decisions…and another post.


I am usually very honest and tell it like it is at work. Honesty is the best policy. however , you have to have a certain finesse when letting

some one know they need to improve on their skills.