What to Do When People Say You’re too Direct


Doctor Neha: Welcome to Talk Rx with Doctor Neha. Today we’re filming from New Zealand, and I have an amazing guest named Kathryn who is willing to talk about communication and ask questions so that all of you can learn. A brave soul. Welcome, Kathryn.

Kathryn: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Doctor Neha: You are a delight. So, tell me. What have you been thinking about in communication?

Kathryn: In my day job, I’m a professional communicator. In my private life, I get a lot of feedback from my family about my communication skills and a recurring theme from my siblings and my dad—my mom passed away 20 months ago—is that I am abrasive and direct. I’m a quarter German so I’m good with direct. I can speak in bullet points, and I don’t even mind conflict and I was brought up in a family where I grew comfortable with conflict and with resolution of conflict. I’ve always been comfortable with communicating directly.
Lately, I’ve been more aware of this. I’m the youngest of three. I have an older brother and an older sister. My older sister lives in London and she’s been out to New Zealand visiting for four weeks. And we had a few email exchanges prior to her visit. It turned out that we were both anxious about the time that she was going to spend here, because it triggered tension. What we discovered was actually a ten-year journey of tension between us and we haven’t quite resolved that.
She’s now back in London, but I was listening to your conversation with Zlata and I was thinking, Wow, I’m that sister who speaks really directly and I’m comfortable with that. And when my sister gives me feedback and says, “When you speak to me like that, I don’t feel respected and I don’t feel valued.” On the one hand that’s horrifying for me to realize she feels like that. On the other hand, I think, Well, that’s your problem. Why would you allow yourself to feel like that?
I guess my question is, “Where do I go from here?”

Doctor Neha: Where to go from here?

Kathryn: With that relationship.

Doctor Neha: Well, first of all, do you want a relationship with your sister?

Kathryn: I do.

Doctor Neha: You do? And you feel like she has your best interest at heart, she wants to connect to you, and she loves you?

Kathryn: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: And it’s not just your sister who’s giving you this feedback. You said that siblings and other people have also given this feedback. Is that true?

Kathryn: Yes, even my husband.

Doctor Neha: Let me make sure that we get really clear here: a weakness, or someone giving you feedback about something they don’t like, is just a strength overused. Okay? Is it good to be honest and direct?

Kathryn: I believe so.

Doctor Neha: Yes! Listen, about now in the world we can use a little honesty and clarity and directness. So, that honesty is a gift. But when that gift is overused, people use words like abrasive, bullying, too much. And if your intention is to have a connection to others, then might it be that your directness and your honesty is a gift and honesty plus compassion equals connection?
Maybe all they’re saying is, “That gift of yours is being overused and maybe if you just pull back on it a little bit and add some compassion…” Because I can tell how moved you were just now when you asked about it. You care about your siblings, you care about your relationship to other people, and you want your sister to feel respected.

Kathryn: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: At some point in your life, it has served you to be strong and direct. Has it protected you in any way?

Kathryn: Possibly.

Doctor Neha: That’s great because that was a strategy that helped you stay safe. And what they’re asking is for you to soften into your heart. Along with that honesty, you get to bring an and which is honesty with compassion. How does that sound?

Kathryn: It sounds great. As you were talking, I’m thinking of my mom who passed away 20 months ago and she was a nurse and she epitomized compassion. She epitomized a servant heart, often to her own detriment.

Doctor Neha: That’s a strength overused.

Kathryn: Yeah, overused.

Doctor Neha: So you saw how her compassion is so amazing and then you watch her get a little bit taken advantage of because she overused that. Yes?

Kathryn: Yes, although she would never have seen it like that because her life was one of service. She was also a great communicator and she was like the glue.

Doctor Neha: Your mom?

Kathryn: Yes. So when she passed, it’s like the communication glue and a lot of the compassion probably has gone. Obviously the grief process is still quite raw and we feel that loss acutely, all of us. It’s hard to know how to find the compassion when I feel like the source of compassion is not there.

Doctor Neha: Except I would say your mom modeled it for you so I am pretty sure it’s in you—because right now, as you’re speaking to me, you have so much compassion for yourself and for your siblings. You’re asking me how you can connect to them. And when you speak of your mother, your tone is so connected to your heart. Do you feel yourself connected to your heart? Because I can feel it. I know you have it in you. Sometimes [compassion] doesn’t feel as strong as, being direct and honest, because that’s like that protected warrior, right?
Your mom was in your life holding that glue together and showing you how it’s done so that someday, when she wasn’t here, you would know. I’m wondering what it would feel like the next time your sister or your sibling or somebody gives you that feedback, for you to say, “Hold on. Thank you for that. I’m going to do a take two. Can I do a take two and try that again and channel mom?” What would be a fun way to say, “Thank you for reminding me that I’m taking my strength and I’m overusing it and I don’t need to”? I could soften into my heart. I’ll use a different tone. Let me channel Mom. And then ask your mom for guidance. How would Mom do this? You know.
Tell me any takeaways from our time today?

Kathryn: I love the phrase, “A strength overused,” so I don’t need to abandon that side of me. I just need to soften it. I need to make it work not just for me, but also for other people.

Doctor Neha: Because you want that connection.

Kathryn: Yes. And inherent in this is I really want to model compassion for my children, and I haven’t known how to bridge that gap between directness and partnering with compassion.

Doctor Neha: Because honesty without compassion is brutality.

Kathryn: Yeah, and I’m good at that.

Doctor Neha: It served you in your life. In your family you were the youngest, so it served you to have that directness and people heard you. Now, you’re not in that space anymore. You’re an adult, and you’re ready to evolve and create different connections. You’re receiving feedback on what’s happening, and you’re ready to evolve and channel your mom. You’re not going to change who you are. You’re just going to become version 2.0 of Kathryn.

Kathryn: Thank you.

Doctor Neha: You’re welcome. For any of you out there who have received feedback that you’re abrasive or too direct or too honest, I want you to remember that it’s a strength to be honest, clear and direct. But when that gets overused, it can feel abrasive to the other person. If you want connection, it’s going to be really important to ask yourself, “How do I feel if the people around me are compassionate? How do I feel in their presence and would I be able to channel some of mom [or some of your sister or whoever the role model is for you] to create the next version of me?”
Don’t change who you. That’s not what we’re asking you to do. We’re asking you to pull back. Maybe a strength is being overused. When someone gives you feedback, consider that a weakness is just a strength overused.
Thanks for listening, and thank you, my darling, so appreciated.
I’d love to hear your comments below, as well as if you have a question. Drop me a tweet at #askdoctorneha.


Awareness Prescription
When You Receive Critical Feedback…

  1. How curious are you about other people’s feedback? (on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being not at all and 10 being very open and receptive)
  2. Ask yourself, “If there is truth to what I’m hearing, how can I pull back and turn it into a strength?”
  3. Ask if you can do a “Take 2” and try again. This time, be very aware of your tone and make sure you’re bringing honesty + compassion.


4 Responses

  1. Thank you
    This one was great. I think I can be direct. Also when my husband is direct I can reply direct and both our feelings got hurt and it’s was downward spiral.
    I will try to remember compaction and that I am strong and good just put on breaks 😁

  2. Oh, well done, both! Kathryn, I want to echo what Neha said: it’s especially brave and loving (of yourself and of us) to share loved ones’ criticism of you, to be so vulnerable, and to stay so beautifully open to Neha’s response and suggestions. And as always, Dr. Neha, you model a beautiful amalgam of honesty tempered with warmth and present-moment awareness and empathy — with the result that your compassionate observations can be heard and felt and taken in. It’s a delicate balance, to do the other person the honor of speaking our truth, but in a way that feels not like attack — which can bring out defensiveness and sever that golden thread — but loving connection, a desire to be authentic, and deep respect for and awareness of the one with whom we so want to share.

    What a gift you both gave us! Can’t thank you enough.

    1. My heart is smiling Kay! Thanks for letting me know these videos are making a difference. It makes all the work worth it. If you ever want to join a power circle or be a guest on a future video, pls email admin@doctorneha.com. We’d love to have you join us!

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