my manager says I’m too abrupt with coworkers

A reader writes:

I am very “to the point” in my communication with my colleagues, as I am always busy. I am constantly being taken aside by my manager and told my communication is too abrupt, abrasive, or assertive and could be perceived this way by my colleagues. This really upsets me, as it feel that at least once a week I am being taken aside and told that essentially I have an awful personality and that I should be changing it. I am not rude, just to the point and feel like I am being singled out.

When I say this is obviously an ongoing problem and that we should formalize these issues through performance management, I am told there is no need, which confirms to me that I am being told I’m good at all other aspects of my job, but am a horrible person. I don’t know what to do this has been going on for 12 months and is sending me home in tears and prone to panic attacks.

It doesn’t sound to me like you’re being told you’re a horrible person or have an awful personality. You’re being given feedback about an element of the way you’re communicating, yes, but this is no more saying that you’re a horrible person than saying that the person who needs stop missing deadlines or be less verbose in her emails to clients is a horrible person.

You’re personalizing work-related feedback when you shouldn’t be.

And I get that it’s particularly easy to personalize it when the feedback is about how you’re interacting with people, but it’s still feedback about your work, not your character.

It also sounds like you’re not really heeding the feedback, which is the bigger problem here. You say that you’re pretty abrupt with your communications with people because you’re busy, which I get — oh how I get it! — but your manager is telling you clearly and repeatedly that that style doesn’t work well in the particular workplace you’re in.

The response to that can’t be to dig in your heels and keep doing it because you’re busy. That would be like hearing your manager say “you need to build better relationships with clients” or “you need to include more detail in your status updates” and you saying “no, I’m too busy, so I choose not to.” You don’t really get to choose not to.

If you feel your workload truly makes it impossibly to soften your emails to people, you can say that to your manager — that you don’t think you can continue to produce at your current level if you need to put more time into your communications with people. You might hear back that that’s fine — that she’d rather you do, say, 5% less work a day and have stronger relationships with people in your office. But regardless, you need to discuss it if you’re calculating that your workload doesn’t allow you to implement a piece of feedback — you can’t just decide to discard it.

But really, I bet you do have time for what she’s asking you to do. It takes about 15 extra seconds to soften an email with the kind of niceties that will prevent your message from coming across as brusque. (It’s the difference between “I need the X report by 5” and “Hey Jane, I need the X report by the end of the day for a project I’m working on. Could you send it to me by then? Thank you!”) It can take a little longer for in-person interactions, but it doesn’t need to mean getting entangled in long, irrelevant social conversations — it can just be about using a nicer tone, taking a minute to talk with the person before getting back to what you were doing … and whatever time you lose in doing that you’ll probably gain back in the productivity increases that usually come with having better working relationships with people.

Your manager is giving you this feedback for a reason. Your style is affecting how people perceive you and how easy they find you to work with — or she’s concerned that it will. Maybe it’s just true in this office and wouldn’t be true somewhere else; for all I know, you could be in a particularly touchy-feely office that has higher needs around this stuff than other places do. But she’s telling you for a reason, and it sounds like you need to take it more seriously to be successful there. She’s not saying “be a different person” or “you need to be best friends with your coworkers” or “you suck.” She’s saying, “In this workplace, what feels to-the-point to you feels brusque to others, and so you need to take an extra minute to soften things.” That’s useful feedback; it’s not an attack.

{ 392 comments… read them below }

  1. UKAnon

    OP, you say you’ve asked for help, but I wonder if you’ve been clear enough. If you were able to help your manager understand what help you need and how this is affecting you that may get you a more useful response.

  2. Moe

    Would this “abruptness” be a problem if the OP were a man?

    And if the OP *is* a man, I will eat my hat.

      1. fposte

        And even if that feedback is given more often to women, it doesn’t mean that the appropriate way to gender-level things is to stop giving it to women–there are a lot of men who could use this information and aren’t getting it.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot

          +1000. Being rude and abrupt in the workplace isn’t really a good idea for anyone, regardless of gender (unless the situation really does call for rudeness, like nasty comments, unreasonable requests, etc.).

          1. qkate

            But the problem is that often women are _incorrectly perceived_ as being rude, even when they aren’t.

              1. qkate

                Right, that wouldn’t be my suggestion. I would advise the OP to confirm this perception with a few other trusted coworkers first, and if true, then definitely follow the advice here. I’m just suggesting due diligence before embarking on what will likely be a big chunk of work and effort.

                1. M-C

                  If the -boss- is saying the OP is too rude, it doesn’t matter how many other people say otherwise. The OP needs to shape up till the boss is satisfied.. That said, I think AAM’s advice is as usual stellar :-).

              1. qkate

                Right, but I hope she takes time to correctly identify “the” problem. It might not or might be what this one person is saying.

    1. Jeanne

      I’m with you. I bet that is part of why it feels personal. Are men being told the same thing?

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’ve seen men get this feedback – actually, I’ve seen more men get this particular feedback than women.

      It’s true that there’s sometimes a gendered component but not always.

      I’m actually going to ask that we don’t take the conversation today too far in that direction since we’ve discussed it plenty recently and I’d like to keep us focused on the letter and the facts that we do have (and otherwise we risk going in a direction that isn’t actually the case here and isn’t helpful to the OP). Thank you!

      1. Just Another Techie

        Also, when there’s an icky gendered component to this kind of feedback, you often hear the woman say something like “I use the same tone as the men in my office” or “I’m already doing my best to be kind and polite and pleasant” or something like that. In this case, the OP is saying outright that they are “to the point.”

      2. Engineer Girl

        How about if there is another component, such as undiagnosed Aspergers? Aspie/autistic women are far less likely to get diagnosed because they manifest the condition differently than men. The abrupt conversation is one way it manifests itself. That would explain why the OP truly can’t see the problem – because she can’t. (That’s why it is called a blind spot)
        I think it is absolutely reasonable for the OP to ask her boss for some scripts for different situations. If she is on the spectrum it will be impossible for her to come up with the correct wording. Once she has the wording then she can implement it.

        1. Holly Olly Oxen Free

          I don’t know. The OP mentioned a single personality trait. I think we can refrain from calling her aspie based on one reference point. Not all abrupt or socially awkward people have Aspergers. Presumably, if she were on the spectrum, OP would have mentioned that or at least considered it a factor by now.

          1. Koko

            I’d also venture so far as to say that a communication style is not a personality trait. It’s learned behavior, and though it may take discipline to learn a new behavior (new habits are hard!), it’s not some inherent quality stamped in you from birth.

        2. Ness

          Bwhahaha- this is hilarious
          No I do not have undiagnosed Aspergers. I’m pretty sure on that one. But I’ll check with my GP next time I’m there :)

          1. Tau

            +1, from someone with AS who’s gotten remarkably sick of the whole “this tiny thing is a social difficulty *clearly* this means the person in question must have Asperger’s!” a long, long time ago.

            (If anything, I soften my communication too much because I’m so anxious about accidentally coming across as rude. Asperger’s: not as straightforward as many people think it is!)

            1. Coach Devie

              Indeed, no spectrum disorder is “straightforward” thus the spectrum. I hope we remain sensitive to that. Also, no need to laugh at “oh god no, I dont!” about the speculation. Being on the spectrum isn’t something we need to shame anyone for being (things people can’t control nor have a choice in aren’t something we need to be insulted about, rude about, shame them about, or be appalled by) as it is simply a part of (but the defining factor) of who they are!

              1. Ness

                OP- I was laughing about the fact that this is automatically where the conversation went. It seems to be that the automatic response to problems is to try and pigeon hole it into some sort of category so it becomes a problem that can be solved. It was not meant to be offensive to people who are on the spectrum. Also it was the first comment I saw when I woke up this morning, it was a pretty funny observation to wake up to

        3. Anon4this

          Engineer Girl, I think you might be spot on with this, and I say this as someone diagnosed with Aspergers late in life. When I look back at my work history, I can see how it has affected every single job I have ever been in.

          1. Zillah

            I’m glad that you feel like you’ve gotten some answers, but that doesn’t mean the OP has Aspergers, and I think that we should really avoid diagnosing people based on a single characteristic they mention in a letter. Most people who are abrupt are not on the spectrum.

        4. lampshade

          Yes, absolutely agree! I have been told the same thing for years and was just recently diagnosed with Aspergers. And I’ve also watched how a guy says something in the same tone that I think I’m using and it’s fine for him but not me. So, yes, it is entirely possible that the OP may or may not be on the spectrum in which case some educating on both sides might solve the problem.

      3. qkate

        I worry that the original feedback to the OP wasn’t helpful, though. My advice would be to solicit the feedback of others she works closely with. It might be that the one person providing her feedback is the only person that has a problem with it.

        I’m a female in a male-dominated industry, and I’ve had a couple older men take issue with my communication style, but typically when I’ve asked around (including other, more diversity-minded older men), I’ve been told the communication in question was perceived by others as perfectly fine.

        I strongly suggest the OP get a second (and third, and so on) opinion before acting on the advice. It may be that the OP _does_ have work to do on her communication style, but it would be awful for her to bend over backwards simply because she doesn’t fit the gendered mold of a couple people.

        1. LD

          It is great to get other opinions and it may be useful information if others don’t find the behavior a problem. I have had a couple of situations where I was told I came across as too assertive/abrupt and when I asked others who observed the interactions, they were surprised at the description of my behavior as abrupt or overly brusque, but it didn’t change the fact that someone found the behavior bothersome/abrupt, or whatever. In the OP’s case it doesn’t change that the manager has asked more than once for the OP to adjust. When your manager has to ask you twice to fix something, that’s not a good sign. And right now there is no evidence that there is gender-bias. So OP can ask for feedback and examples of what to do instead of the “abrupt” and “direct” behaviors, and then work to incorporate those suggestions and those that Alison recommends. It’s not easy, but it is possible to make those kinds of adjustments.

          1. Jenny Gray

            I had a coworker who avoided conflict like it was a plague and so wasn’t always that direct in her communication. This created problems for her because she came across as someone unable to accurately express what she wanted/needed from people. I on the other hand would rather be direct with someone than get into a situation where communication isn’t clear and so a 10 minute conversation turns into a half hour one. This can be a negative but I have found that if you say Thank you and sometimes just choose different words than everyone appreciates it. I think the OP could see a huge change in the perception of them if they just took a little more time in communication. This is true for anyone. One thing that I always do is stop what I am doing to talk to someone. If I am in the middle of something that can’t be immediately stopped I always ask the person to hold on while I finish something u.

    3. KT

      I think men get this feedback a lot–I know my dad specifically got this often. He was direct and to the point, and despite being an extreme high-performer, he frequently was cited as cold and abrupt. At the height of his career, his manager (also a man) told my dad in no uncertain terms that he had reached as high as he could go because of his lack of warmth and ability to communicate in a way that wasn’t off-putting to his team.

      My dad is really a very kind person, but he would get in the zone and super-busy and would come off very cold. And yes, his career was stunted because of it.

      1. Well

        I’m a dude, and I was fortunate early in my career to have an excellent manager who broke this down for me. I still remember the annual review in which she told me that what *I* saw as being honest, forthright, and efficient behavior was being almost universally perceived as unkind, rude, and abrasive, and that my relationships – and results – would be stronger if I treated people a little more gently. She laid out a few recent examples. (Trust me when I say that there were plenty to choose from.)

        In the moment I remember being a little shell-shocked. (I think I responded with a grin made a quip about appreciating her honest and forthright feedback.) Years later, I feel really fortunate that she said something and was willing to coach me to improve. Nowadays I get told with some degree of frequency what a great communicator I am, and honestly it’s largely due to her telling me it was a problem – I never would’ve recognized it on my own – and coaching me into more effective patterns.

        Anyways, OP, I hope you take Alison’s advice. It hurt to hear this kind of feedback – what the heck, I’m a nice guy! – but like Alison says, this is about effective behaviors, not your personality. If your boss told you that she’s concerned balls are getting dropped and wants you to keep a to-do list, you wouldn’t take that as her telling you that you have some fatal character flaw. This is no different, and you should try to accept it in that spirit.

        (And now I’m off to email that former boss a thank-you.)

    4. simonthegrey

      My husband always gets this feedback. Big guy, very blunt, on the aspie spectrum…oh yeah. He’s constantly told that he’s “too brusque” or “too rude.” He isn’t, and he would tell you he is simply “efficient,” but his efficiency in communication has cost him a couple jobs before he met me. I had to teach him how to “go along to get along” and how to change his resting mean face into a neutral-pleasant expression, and to add in softening words like “would you mind” and “would you kindly” instead of just “I need this” or “I can’t do that.”

    5. misplacedmidwesterner

      I changed my screen name for this one. I have received this EXACT same feedback. And it was definitely a gendered thing. In my case I was also the supervisor of the people making the complaint. And they accused me of “not being raised right by my parents” because I didn’t say please and thank you “enough”. I took it super hard. I also got crazy angry as people do when their family is criticized. That didn’t help our overall situation.

      However what was going on is that I was a replacement supervisor after a really really really bad thing had happened in their department. They were scared and angry and frustrated. And I was crazy busy and trying to fix the big things. And I overlooked the soft little things. Stopping a little, doing less rushing in and out, really helped that situation.

      It was a bit because I was a woman and everyone else there was a woman and there are gendered expectations around that. It completely isn’t fair. And we can change society. But first we need to help you with your current work situation.

      Write an email. Take a deep breath, drink of your beverage. Glance over your email. Add 3 words to 1 sentence to soften it. Hit send. Pay attention to the style (especially greetings and closings) of your office mates emails. Respond accordingly.

      In person: “too brusque” can mean we know nothing about you. It doesn’t mean you have to be best buddies but try offering up some innocuous details. Ask how people’s weekends were. Offer up that you used the nice weather to go out for a walk with your dog/ read a book in the sun/ browsed a flea market/whatever.

      This is really hard criticism to get and I know how threatening it can feel. Good luck!

      1. Lindrine

        You can also save yourself some time by editing your email signature with your closing statement, so you always have a softer close. You could even make yourself several drafts of emails to choose from for common conversations with an opener and closer.

        Good luck!

        1. Melissa

          To add: A lot of email clients will allow you to save several different signatures; you could include the soft close in your signature and choose when when you are sending the mail.

      2. Vin Packer

        This is a great response. The chorus of but I heard a man get this too so how can it be sexism?! isn’t that helpful, because this IS a gendered thing and it’s ok and necessary to acknowledge that. What your comment demonstrates, though, is that certain types of criticism can be both gendered -and- valid. And, based on the OP’s letter (“too busy”), it seems likely that there is real room for improvement here.

        So, yeah, if OP is a woman, sexism is probably operating here, because sexism is always operating on some level in a sexist society. But that doesn’t mean the OP doesn’t need to take five minutes to be nicer to people throughout the day withoit taking the request to do so so personally, and those are the more pressing, actionable issues here.

        1. LBK

          I’m not sure I really agree…if something is completely valid (by OP’s own admission!) then I don’t know that it’s really fair to assert that sexism plays into it. While I fully understand the idea of institutionalized and subconscious sexism, I’m not comfortable saying that any time someone gives a woman feedback, it is inherently sexist, regardless of the validity of the statement. Something can be gendered in an average sense (ie on average, applied disproportionately to women) while not being gendered in a specific instance.

      3. WorkingFromCafeInCA

        On Fridays, I like to end my emails with “Have a great weekend!” — it’s a go-to sign-off that acknowledges that people have lives outside of work, and even in a slightly serious office, an exclamation point on Fridays is (I think) an acceptable injection of fun.

      4. Jeanne

        I got yelled at by a coworker once because I didn’t say God Bless You. She considered me really rude. I didn’t discriminate – didn’t say it to anyone else either – but she was so offended. The people who got on you about please and thank you probably only noticed the few times you didn’t say it, not the times you did. Saying you weren’t raised right is completely inappropriate for work.

        1. misplacedmidwesterner

          “Saying you weren’t raised right is completely inappropriate for work.” That was brought up. Later. When I was calmer. Much calmer.

          What I said in a very calm almost flat voice because that’s what I do when I get angry was, “My parents raised me to be extremely polite, but they didn’t say please and thank you every time they asked me to do something because as parents it was their right to ask things of me. I will try to say please and thank you more often but as a manager it is expected that I will ask people I am supervising to do things and I may not always surround it by the niceties.” Not the best answer, but the best I could do at the time. I am one of those people who gets protective of their family.

    6. Nerdling

      We have someone in our office who is like this and who has gotten this sort of feedback before. It’s a problem, regardless of the fact that he’s a man. In fact, because of some other personality aspects, him communicating this way as a man comes across as more offensive to those of us in the office who are not men. I frequently have to stop myself from thinking, “This sexist son of a …” and remind myself that his communication style comes across as treating everyone like a serf to be given orders, not just us wimminfolk.

        1. Nerdling

          I do what I can to make sure every possible term for unpaid or underpaid labor I can find continues to be used. :D

      1. Rene UK

        Hm. Are you the OP? If so, I think you’ve made a point here; you made a post of three words, with no indication of what you were answering or who you are. That, I’m sorry to say, comes across as abrupt and unpleasantly terse to me, and not effectively communicating to boot.

    7. Navy Vet

      I happen to work with a woman who is very much is exactly what the OP is describing.

      In my case she is 100% rude and abrupt to everyone who deals with her. She is constantly talking very loudly about how very busy she is. The second anyone is out of earshot she is talking poorly about them. (Or on vacation) People go out of their way to avoid dealing with her.

      She’s not an assertive, clear female. Nor is she professional. She throws temper tantrums the second things do not go her way. Even little things that can not be controlled like weather of flight delays.

      She also takes this feedback personally when given, however she does nothing to make working with her a millimeter easier. I have literally never met anyone so miserable in my entire life.

      You don’t have to be a ray of sunshine to be a good coworker, but if your co-workers don’t want to call you because they are afraid of your reaction, or don’t want to be yelled at it’s seriously time for some self reflection. It’s not that you are a bad person, but you do need to work on your people skills.

      No matter how hard you work if you are not at least professional and polite it will not reflect well on you as a team member. If your boss keeps bringing it up to you it’s because he’s hearing about it constantly.

      For the record. I am a woman. This has nothing with her being a female and everything to do with being a professional adult.

  3. NJ Anon

    Dear LW
    I feel your pain. I have always had this issue. I have just learned over time to “soften” my approach. I hate it, because it’s not me but it has to be done. Just think twice before you respond. It might help to have someone read an email you are going to send before sending it to see if it needs a tweak. I do this too. And as AAM says, it’s hard but try not to take it personally. These are the “soft” skills that are needed. And trust me, I am busy as hell and there are times when I am stressed and get cranky but we joke about it and keep moving on!
    Good Luck!

    1. Jennifer

      Seconded. If other people are complaining, then you are in the wrong, period. I had to learn this the hard way too.

    2. Beebs

      Some of my work involves working with people and small teams in different areas, so we primarily communicate by email. I typically prefer the short and to the point emails for ongoing projects and communications with people you have rapport with, though I discovered that not everyone reacts the same to that style. Some prefer it, while others need more. I have some particular individuals that probably expect a little too much fluff and niceties, but it is easier for me to add that to emails than to deal with the consequences of not adding those extra words and phrases.

    3. Artemesia

      ‘I need this’ or ‘I can’t do that’ come across as ‘gimme this’ and ‘screw you.’ Whether a man or woman says it, it comes across as rude and demanding.

      Common courtesy requires a little pleasantness. Even nesting, ‘I need this’ in a context e.g. ‘The TPS reports have to go in at 5 today, so I really need that data on the Wimple account by one to get it into the report’ comes across as much less jerkface.

  4. Partly Cloudy

    Ask for examples, for both emails/written communication and verbal interactions. Having specific examples like Alison’s example to refer to would help a lot, I think.

    1. BRR

      This is good advice. I would specifically look at emails your boss has sent out as a guide.

      1. AdminAnon

        Yes, exactly. I got similar feedback from my boss when I first started, so I paid more attention to the emails she was sending and started to mimick her style. At this point, I’ve incorporated those softening phrases and tones into my own communication so much that it feels natural. Like anything else, it’s a habit that takes some time to build. I would definitely recommend either asking for examples or keeping an eye/ear out for key phrases that your boss uses on a regular basis.

        1. AdminAnon

          Mimic*

          Blargh. My kingdom for an editing tool!! That’s what happens when you change the sentence halfway through…I was going for “started mimicking” initially.

        2. Jazzy Red

          This is really great advice. Fitting into the corporate culture is a big part of success at your job. That means paying attention to not just *what* things are done, but *how* things are done.

          OP, if you don’t start changing your communication style, your boss will start talking to you about not being a good fit for this job. That’s code for “I’m going to start documenting these things so I can lay you off or fire you”.

          There are some office environments where blunt, straight forward communication is SOP, but it sounds like your current place is not like that. If you can’t make the changes your boss wants, you might be more comfortable in a new job somewhere else.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

        I actually don’t think you should ask for examples. They are in abundance. Use your bosses emails, or maybe ask your boss to suggest someone who does this well and use their emails.

    2. Juli G.

      Great advice!

      Good learning for managers too. If your employee isn’t “getting” your feedback, you may need to adjust the delivery.

    3. Hlyssande

      This!

      OP, I was also going to suggest asking your supervisor for some more specific examples of what they’d like to see change. Some people need more concrete examples and that’s perfectly fine – you just need to ask for them.

      I also like the idea of reviewing emails from others in the department and seeing the differences – and maybe mimicking how they do it. Nobody’s saying you have to waste a lot of time on small talk, but please and thank you actually go a long way in emails, you’d be surprised.

    4. Observer

      Ask for examples and explain why. Otherwise, you risk sounding defensive and like you are trying to divert the conversation. If, instead you say ask for examples “So I can figure out effective ways to change” makes a huge difference.

      By the way, this is also a good idea in general. If you need something, when you ask for it explain (briefly) WHY you need it.

  5. TootsNYC

    Practice a smile. Especially in person, smile first. Then speak.

    W/ coworkers you email, put a greeting first. Then some line spaces, and then the request or the info.

    You might also see if you can invent your own tagline: “Thanks bunches!” or “Totes appreciate it.”
    Or, “Your expert assistance with this crucial matter is greatly appreciated ;) !” if you think the over-the-top formality might be seen as funny. (though, don’t go that route if you usually seem too formal)
    Something that fits with you. And use it.

    Also–try to see your coworkers (in person and by email) as people. *See* them. Then talk about whatever work is happening.

    And smile. Even if they’re not right there in front of you–if you’re just writing an email, leaving a voicemail message, answering the phone. Smile. Literally, with your face.

    It’ll help a lot.

    Good luck! I know the way it can feel that your personality is under attack. I definitely get it. But you can find a way to be more approachable and still be efficient.
    It won’t cost you that much time, honest it won’t.

    And being approachable is really crucial in terms of -productivity-. If people are nervous or hesitant or unwilling to come to you with info, questions, etc., it’s going to make you even -more- busy. I’ve seen it happen.

    1. BRR

      Your advice makes me wonder if the OP has resting bitch face. As the spokesperson for RBF I have trained myself to smile slightly when leaving my desk to walk anywhere (yeah, that’s how much effort I put into it).

        1. NinaK

          RBF! I LOVE this. I am sooo going to use this from now on as I think I have an RBF.

        2. Jazzy Red

          Me, too. I think mine started when I was a child – I remember my parents yelling at me for being angry and scowling all the time. I wasn’t angry, and I wasn’t scowling. I was squinting. I needed glasses and I couldn’t see past my nose. It was years before I finally got glasses, and even now I have to sometimes remind myself to soften my face and smile a little.

      1. Dot Warner

        +1 to both Totes and BRR’s advice! It’s amazing how something as small as “TGIF” at the end of an email can improve the tone.

        OP, I know how you feel because I’m direct too. I’m not mad or trying to pick a fight; that’s just how I am. I think that if somebody made a mistake or didn’t meet expectations, they need to be told so that they can improve. I still struggle regularly with toning this down. Two things that have helped me are: 1) using email as much as possible because then I have time consider my response carefully instead of saying something off-the-cuff that I may regret later and 2) remembering that not every email requires a response right now.

        1. Hlyssande

          I have similar issues sometimes when something is clearly wrong.

          What I’ve done when I’m angry or frustrated at something or someone is write my email response, then get up and go the bathroom or refill my water or make coffee or something, or even just look at something else (kittens?!) for a few minutes, then return to the email and rewrite it. When I do that, I usually find better phrasing/explanations in general than in the first draft.

          If I’m really mad about something, I might go downstairs to the lobby to listen to the fountain for a few minutes (while using self control to avoid going into the coffee shop because hello wallet).

          OP, even if you’re not mad about something and you do need to respond quickly, write out your first draft. Then look at something else for a minute or two – maybe answer a different email – then come back to the draft you started and see what you can tweak.

          You might want to familiarize yourself with cultural norms if you’re dealing with people in different countries, too. For awhile our team members in the Philippines were distressed to get emails from me informing them of errors even when there was softening language…because it’s very common to use emoticons, apparently. Not that they’re necessarily professional, but in one on one communication, they can be useful.

            1. Rose

              Always, always add the recipient to your emails LAST.

              Same idea, just find it a little bit easier/cuts out a step.

              This has saved me many times.

          1. Alicia

            If I’m hitting reply, the first thing I do is strip out the “to” email address so I will never accidentally send a email that wasn’t ready yet.

        2. Bwmn

          In my office, one of my coworkers (a man) is from overseas and a culture where professional communication style is far more abrupt and when translated into English can read as very cold and sometimes rude. In addition to working on it in other ways, for short internal emails – he has become the #1 user of smiley faces.

          It’s been far less work for him that figuring out additional “filler” sentences and phrases, and combined with addressing some language choices has definitely improved the tone of his emails. This route is obviously quite person/office dependent, but it is another approach to soften emails without necessarily doing significant edits.

          1. Hlyssande

            In an informal message via email or a chat program, smilies can be very useful.

            I use them all the time in our internal chat program (though Jabber SUCKS at them compared to Office Communicator, sucks I tell you).

            1. DMented Kitty

              I feel like we work in the same office. We got rid of Office Communicator and just replaced it with Jabber. Doesn’t make much difference to me — the only improvement was that at least the message box blinks properly whenever someone in my chat window responds — my old OC was buggy and sometimes doesn’t blink when someone sends me a new reply.

      2. Anonsie

        I just leave it. I don’t want to soften my edges too much, honestly. I’m super friendly when I interact with people, no one should be worried about how my natural face looks when I’m walking around.

      3. TootsNYC

        RBF can be a problem.

        But my comment was less about that, and more about making a conscious effort to smile. Because smiling with your facial muscles *will* change your mental outlook and your emotions.
        It will help you start to “see” your colleagues as real people.

        And it will slow you down just a little, so you can disengage from “task, to the point” and engage with “people in front of me, literally or electronically.”

        1. Koko

          Yes, you’ve hit on the thing that I think a lot of the people with the “Why should I have to put in these superfluous words when I’ve already communicated the important facts?” position miss. It’s about seeing people as people, and acknowledging that. We all want to be acknowledged for our person-ness. OP had written above, “I am not rude, just to the point,” but the thing is: being consistently “just to the point” IS rude because it fails to acknowledge the humanity of the person you’re talking to.

      4. Ellie H

        I have resting “Something terrible just happened to me” face. Except the terrible thing that has just happened to me is usually someone saying “You look worried, are you okay?” I know they probably mean well, but I find it so frustrating, it’s such an effort to be polite and appropriate in response.

        1. fposte

          Hi, OP, thanks for commenting! And for clarifying. There are some really good tips about easy-to-add stuff to emails in the comments; I hope you find them useful.

    2. KT

      THIS.

      I have awful resting bitch face (I’ve been told my resting face is a combination of angry and haughty…*sigh*) so I have to force the corners of my mouth up at all times so I look more “pleasant”. I’ve trained myself now.

      1. simonthegrey

        I do this only with my eyes. I focus on having “warm eyes” even if I’m not smiling, because where I work it isn’t always appropriate to grin, but it is necessary to look approachable and if my eyes look alert and friendly, people respond better.

        1. KT

          I’ve never learned to “smile with my eyes”. When i try, it looks like I’m trying to use X-ray vision or something.

          1. fposte

            I never even watched America’s Next Top Model, but I remember from the TWoP recaps that this was a huge thing; Tyra portmanteau’d it into “smize.” Urgh.

      2. Rose

        ugh i feel you. I have resting sad face. People ALWAYS ask me what’s wrong when I’m in a perfectly happy mood. It really throws me off.

    3. Looby

      If my coworker started signing emails with “totes appreciate it” I would no longer think they were blunt or harsh – I’d think they were an idiot.

      1. Chloe

        +1 …

        I sign off with “Thanks so much!” … nicer and more enthusiastic than “Thanks.” but still appropriate.

      2. Anon Accountant

        +1

        I’d stick with “your help is appreciated”, “thanks so much”, etc.

        1. AliveSpin

          Yes. I agree that using casual expressions can improve the tone of email communications, but “Totes appreciate it” or “Thanks bunches” or going to sound absolutely moronic from 99.9% of people.

          Just say “Hi” and “Thanks” and drop in a friendly small talk line from time to time and you’ll be fine.

      1. Anon Accountant

        Agreed. My 17-year-old cousin says this and if I saw it in a work email I’d think some teenage slang had rubbed off.

      2. Kelly O

        You could leave out the “work” part of that sentence. And the “email.”

        <– "Totes" dislikes it, "natch." /shudder

        1. ExceptionToTheRule

          The sentence could just read “never use ‘totes’ ever” and be okay. God, I work with someone who has half our newsroom saying that. As if we needed more proof that the newsroom is really just a middle school cafeteria.

      3. Koko

        Oh, come now, there are some offices where it’d be just fine. I have coworkers that I’ve worked alongside for years and our relationship has become very casual, we routinely use slang words in conversations that I would never use with an external client or vendor or even someone in another department. Using “totes” is not a never-ever – it’s a know-your-culture.

        1. Kelly O

          I honestly cannot imagine a workplace where saying “totes” is okay. I have been working in offices nearly 20 years – big companies, small companies, private companies, public companies, universities, utilities – and it floors me that people think this is okay.

          If you’re in an IM and feel the urge, knock yourself out. But in email? Email is forever. Even if you think you delete it, or it won’t matter, it matters. I’ve seen too many investigations where emails were pulled back up and used, and I would not want an investigator to see me telling someone “totes appreciated” unless I were thanking them for bringing book tote bags.

          Although in the spirit of full disclosure, I cannot imagine saying it in any context. I can’t even recall a friend using it in conversation, unless discussing the “Totes McGotes” commercial. But I’m just saying it’s hardly professional, and there are a lot of people who perceive it as juvenile and would not take that email closure seriously.

    4. Nerdling

      Or just use basic niceties: “Hi, X”; “Thanks”. There’s absolutely no need to go from being perceived as cold or brusque to being perceived as unprofessional or, worse, imbecilic and immature.

  6. BRR

    The book “The 11 Laws of Likability” might come in handy for you (it definitely has for me).

    I understand how tough it has to be to receive this feedback. It’s not about on your personality, it’s about how things are being perceived. You can even think of it more as really an issue that others are having but it’s something you’re going to need to adjust.

    You mention asking for formal performance management, but have you tried to change anything? Just searching “how to soften email” and “how to soften my communication style” yielded a lot of good results.

    1. Ness

      Thanks BRR- I will take the advice on the reading material. I know it’s about how its perceived, but it’s not how it’s intended. It is just riling that I have to soften my approach because people take offence. Most of the time my emails are being perceived as abrupt is when asking questions about why something wasn’t done or was done incorrectly. I deal with people in all states (I am in Australia) and have never dealt with most of these people in any other way other than email.

      1. Zillah

        As someone who can also be abrupt, I totally understand why it’s frustrating to you.

        At the same time, though, I’ve come to realize that their perception isn’t necessarily wrong or unfair – I don’t have this reaction to brusqueness at work, generally, but I do absolutely get frustrated when I feel like my partner isn’t softening the things he’s saying, and it ends up coming off like he’s ordering me around or doesn’t appreciate the household chores/whatever that I do. I can understand how it might rub people the wrong way in other contexts, too.

      2. TootsNYC

        Most of the time my emails are being perceived as abrupt is when asking questions about why something wasn’t done or was done incorrectly.
        (sorry to come back late to comment)

        When you are in the position of scolding someone, you have to be extra, extra, extra careful.

        And you have something going for you–you know where the problem is. So when you have to write an email about errors, you *have* a “trigger” available to you to alert you to the danger. Use it!

        People are defensive. They don’t even know you. And you are being abrupt with them when they already (if they aren’t horrid people) feeling chagrined and embarrassed.
        And a great many of us have memories of our parents or teachers saying, “Why did you do that?” as code for “how could you be so stupid?” which is itself code for “I think you’re stupid.”

        Few things are more important than managing people’s morale when they make mistakes. And abruptness and directness is a big problem. You don’t have to be blathery. But be kind.

        Re: the “code for” I mentioned–what ARE you asking for, why ARE you writing to them about these mistakes? Think about that. What is your goal?
        Do you want to identify problems that can be fixed for next time? Then say that right away, and ask for their input. “Would you look through your workflow, and the communication you got from other people, and help me identify anything we can fix for next time?”
        Do you want to be sure they realize how important the error was? Then say that–“I want to alert you to the consequences we all paid–please keep these in mind.”
        Do you want to be sure they realize THAT an errors was made? Focus on that: “Wanted to be sure you were aware that this teapot spout was the wrong width and couldn’t be attached.”

        You have a target–“emails about errors.” Find some people in your real life who can brainstorm wording with you.

  7. amp2140

    I am currently the coworker asking my manager to speak to my coworker about this stuff.

    My coworker is like Sheldon. He literally has said “no time for social pleasantries” While I assume OP isn’t that bad… delivery matters. My coworker doesn’t say good morning, please, thank you, excuse me… and it’s not only rude, but embarrassing to be in front of clients like that.

    OP, I’d ask for specific examples on what you’re doing wrong and how you can do it better. It will hold you back in your career if people perceive yourself that way.

    Oh, and drop the ‘but I’m busy,’ because as a coworker phrased to me… the implied ending to that sentence is ‘and you’re not’.

      1. chump with a degree

        Dude, we are all busy. Doesn’t keep us from being nice, though. Think of manners as the grease for the work wheel.

      2. Kelly O

        That’s kind of how I felt about it. It’s not like you’re dealing with an overly-chatty coworker who won’t take a hint, or a stream of people coming by because you happen to be next to the Keurig.

        Taking a few seconds to recognize the human being making the request, or of whom you’re making a request, goes a long way to not only improving your work relationships, but improving your interactions with others in all sorts of settings. I know that probably sounds touchy-feely, but as a general rule, people are more apt to want to help and to want to go above and beyond for someone who they think treats them like a person who matters.

        I’m not saying I agree with “totes appreciated” because I loathe the word “totes” but simply “Jane, I need the X report by 2:00 for my project. Could you please get that to me as soon as you can?”

        Like Alison said, it just softens it up a bit and humanizes both you and the other person. It might not seem like an important thing right now, but it will be.

    1. fposte

      Definitely agreeing on the “I’m busy” thing. First, as Alison notes, this isn’t really time-consuming–nobody’s telling you to go out shopping with people or to attend all their kids’ birthdays. Second, getting along with co-workers is part of our jobs; it’s not a special extra thing that you’ll do only if you have time for it.

      1. LBK

        Yes, exactly – you can’t be “too busy” to be nice to your coworkers any more than you can be “too busy” to do any other required function of your job. It’s not optional just because it’s not easily quantifiable.

      2. Ness

        OP- where does it state that you have to be cheerful all the time at work and be super nice to everyone. I am fufilling my contract by meeting all the aspects of such contract. There is a difference between being polite and being nice. I understand the need to work collegially and be polite, but it is in no way in my job contract to ‘get along’ with my co workers

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Actually, in the majority of jobs, getting along with coworkers IS part of the job. In this case, your manager is clearly telling yo that you need to work on the way you’re perceived by colleagues, which means that it is indeed part of the job. I’m puzzled about why you’re willing to ignore such clear feedback?

          1. Ness

            Maybe in the States it will specifically state this but in Australia it doesn’t seem to be the case
            In most of my previous jobs and this one an aspect of the job is working in a team/ team work and it talks about working in a team environment and across teams in a productive manner – not in a ‘nice’ manner, it also does not specifcally state ‘like everyone and get along with everyone’ this would be an impossibly high standard to set as no one is ever going to like everyone they work with. It does however state that you need to work collegially and be polite. There is a diffence between the two. I believe i am meeting the latter.

            1. Snoskred

              I live in Australia, have worked here for over 20 years, and I can assure you that Alison is correct on this one. It does not need to state anywhere that you have to be cheerful and super polite. That is a baseline unspoken expectation. It does not need to be written in your contract.

              I’m sure if you look at your contract, you won’t find anything about all kinds of things, everything from swearing in the workplace, wearing clothes, using a toilet when you need to rather than just squatting on the floor..

              I’m sure nowhere in your contract does it state that your employer would be unhappy with you if you took a sledgehammer to their fridge or a computer monitor, or that it would be totally uncool to go into the kitchen and smash every mug and plate. But if you took the absence of these items in your contract as the go-ahead to do them, you’d probably find out soon enough that your employer has a basic expectation of behaviour which they have not written down specifically for everyone to follow.

              Just because an employer has specific policies for harassment and acceptable use of computers does not mean those are the only policies that apply.

              I’ll also say that in this thread I’ve felt that you’ve been quite defensive. You don’t seem to be listening to what people here are saying to you.

              If you are getting regular feedback that your communication is too abrupt, abrasive, etc, then you are not working “collegially” or being polite. Not by a long shot.

              You can do one of two things here.

              1. You can accept that there is a problem here and work on it. No matter how perfect you might think you are, your employer is clearly telling you that there is a problem repeatedly but you are refusing to hear it. Turn off your defensive mode. Turn off fight or flight. Take a moment to read back through the things being said here and actually listen to what is being said to you, and consider whether you could take some of the suggestions on board in an effort to keep your job.

              2. You can keep defending, keep fighting to be right, etc. Just know that you are putting your job at risk by refusing to accept there is a problem with the way you communicate.

              I say all of this as someone who was once sat in a room and told “Your personality is a problem for us.” Well, that is not valid feedback, especially when I asked for examples they were unable to provide any. It turned out that their workplace was a problem for me, and I left soon afterwards. :)

              But I have also received valid feedback over the past 20 years across many and varied subjects and taken it on board. The feedback they are giving you is valid, and it is NOT about your personality. It is about your behaviour, which can always be changed to suit the situation you are in.

              I think you might find it useful to separate your personality from your behaviour. The earlier you can do this in your career, the better for you in the long run. :)

              1. Ness

                OP

                OK

                At the risk of sounding yet again ‘defensive’ let me clarify a couple of things

                A) I Don’t think I have been defensive in this thread – I have been taking things on board that are practical and will actually help me, not general throw away assumptions about the way I work and interact with my colleagues. I have thanked people for their contributions

                B) I have been with the same organisation for approx. 5 years in those five years I have been promoted 3 times and have been in my current position for 3 years. I actually manage a small team and at any one time I have 3- 4 direct reports. I am constantly opening my self up to feed back form these direct reports about my work and my communication. I have a weekly group meeting with the whole team, on going feedback sessions and a monthly catch up with each of them individually about general matters e.g. work/life issues and balance, what’s working for them, what needs to work better and how I can help. I also it goes without saying ask for feedback at their mid year and end of year performance reviews. I even let them know if they do not feel comfortable feeding back to me they are more than welcome to feedback to my manager.

                This issue of being abrupt has only been a problem (or only flagged to me as a problem) in the last 12-18 Months. There was no feedback of this sort before this time. I have also never received this feedback from any other place of employment. The only feedback I received regarding face to face communication was that someone had been offended as I walked out of a meeting room with ‘a look on my face’ – I don’t know what to do with that type of information

                One of the first things that was feed back to me was that someone had been offended by an email I sent as I had used bold and underlining in the email and that I had sworn. I rigorously defended my self against this and made HR come to my desk and read through my sent items in outlook to show them the email was not bold or underlined, nor was there any swearing in the email either. Nothing more was said to me about it. It was not take any further, but there was no ‘ok’ we can see that the allegation was untrue, we are sorry that this was an issue for three weeks, or we spoke to the person (A manger in another department) who obviously changed your email before the complaint was made. (This manager still works there, and as far as I know nothing was done). So perhaps giving this context gives you a little more perspective on
                a) Why I think its odd I’m getting this feedback
                b) Why I am anxious about this feedback being blown out of proportion.

                What i am asking for is actuall information i can use. As a task oriented person i need practical advice that can help me

                1. Zillah

                  But I think that when you respond to people pointing out why your standard seems to be a problem by saying, “But it’s not written anywhere that I have to be cheerful or friendly,” you do come off as defensive. The same is true of your dismissing the observations because you’re a “task oriented person.” Great – so am I. But part of dealing with other people is meeting them where they are and taking in critique and observations even when it isn’t tailored perfectly to your conversation style.

            2. Ask a Manager Post author

              I’m not talking about it being a written thing in a contract! I’m talking about basic expectations at most jobs. If you’re looking for it in a contract and deciding you don’t have to do it because it’s not there — well, that’s a huge issue.

            3. Kara

              Ness – One thing to note is that employment in the States is very VERY different from how it is in Oz/NZ and large parts of Europe. Most of us do not have “employment contracts”. Employment in the US is usually (depending on the state) “at will” which means either party is free to terminate the employment at any time, for any reason.
              That said, my in-laws are Australian and I have a hard time believing that politeness, courtesy, and “nice” are not an accepted part of company culture in Oz companies. They don’t need to be written into a contract; it’s accepted that reasonable and rational adults understand that building congenial business relationships with your co-workers (i.e. being “nice” to them) is status quo. It doesn’t mean you have to LIKE all of them. It means you have to get along with them and not be obviously rude or abrasive.
              To claim that this is a cultural difference is trying to shuffle blame and is a red herring.

              1. Snoskred

                Kara said “That said, my in-laws are Australian and I have a hard time believing that politeness, courtesy, and “nice” are not an accepted part of company culture in Oz companies.”

                It is an accepted part of company culture. :) It has been at every Australian company I have worked at, and I’ve worked at some big names over the years.

        2. Frances K R

          The thing is, if your manager is pulling you aside to talk to you about this, someone thinks you are not being “polite”. To use the words from the initial letter, “abrupt” is not polite, and neither is “abrasive”.

          No-one is asking you to be perma-cheerful or actively likeable, but the reactions you’re describing getting indicate that you’ve dipped below the level of polite or collegial.

          I think you’ve gotten some good advice; I hope you find it useful.

    2. Sunshine

      Thanks for pointing that out about the habit of saying “I’m busy.” Everyone is busy, I promise. Every. One. So not only does it come across as making excuses for yourself, it sounds like you think your time is so much more important than everyone else.

    3. AVP

      ooh, especially if clients are involved. That requires a separate level of handholding that’s not arbitrary or optional.

  8. SJP

    OP – I work with a lady like this and unfortunately it rubs me (a women) and everything else the wrong way. Partly it’s her personality type and it’s also partly because she’s busy but im sorry but there is no need to be so abrupt with your coworkers. I get extremely busy but not once have I been told i’m too abrupt with my colleagues, because I polite stop what I am doing and talk to them as I would if I wasn’t stressed or busy, because that’s the personable polite thing to do. I’m sure you’d be put out if your coworkers started being too ‘to the point’ etc just cause you’re busy. It’s just not the done thing.

    And as Alison said, you’r manager see’s it as a problem and you’re not taking that on board and working on, and you need to. There’s being to the point, and then there’s being abrasive enough that people see it as rude. Also it may also be your tone, that has a lot to do with it.. you may be speaking back quickly, loudly or something and that is seen as too blunt. We all want to communicate without waffling or saying too much but the way in which we say it as a big impact on how it’s perceived..
    Might have to do a bit on inner soul searching and actually think if you changed a few things about how you communicate, how much will it help you..

    1. Mike C.

      I really dislike this idea that the employee needs to do some “inner soul searching” about this issue. Clear examples 0f bad behavior should be given along with clear examples of expected behavior. This isn’t something that the OP should have to read minds to figure out, especially when this is clearly an issue over the nuances of interpersonal communication.

      1. fposte

        Agreed. It doesn’t take any inner soul-searching to pause and add in a salutation and a signoff to emails. It’s just a step in the task.

        1. RVA Cat

          This. The OP needs to see it less about core personality and more about wearing nicer clothes to work than you would to mow the lawn. Professional manners are just part of the “uniform”.

          1. Ness

            OP- Professional manners is the perfect phrase RVA I believe I have professional manners, probably at the lower end of the spectrum, but it’s there. My signature has a thanks in it already. There is always a “hi” and usually “can I ask?”

            It not just “why has (a) happened?”
            This is why I’m confused

        2. SJP

          Mike, fpsote – What I meant is that OP seems to be taking this personally that she’s a ‘horrible person’ rather than listening to her boss who is saying she is being too abrupt and needs to soften her tone etc. Sometimes it take someone to stop and actually admit to themselves that yes they are too abrupt. My friends and family always used to say to me that I was too loud.. for ages I brushed it off and only until I actually realised one day that I should have listened and I was being talking too loud due to an ear problem affecting my hearing. I felt embarrassed as people had told me I was ‘shouting’ when talking and didn’t believe them because I got defensive and didn’t want to admit to myself that I had been embarrassing myself for months..
          I’m referring to the OP saying to herself – “Do I really need to change this to better myself and my career” and admitting it. Half the time admitting you have something you need to change is the quickest way to change it..

          1. Mike C.

            But when you tell someone that they’re being too abrupt, you are directly telling them that there is something wrong with them as a person. If the boss was saying, “that email you sent was abrupt”, you’re depersonalizing the issue and focusing on specifics that can be worked on.

            What makes this really difficult is that “abruptness” is something that there really is no right or wrong answer for – it exists on a wide spectrum influenced by culture, locality, class, and other similarly difficult factors. Telling someone to just think about it really hard until they come t0 the conclusion that they’re wrong isn’t going to work in a situation like this.

            1. Melissa

              Well, you could say that for a lot of things. Some offices allow peep-toe shoes and others frown on it; in some workplaces you can leave at 5 pm without ill effects and others expect long hours; and in some workplaces you can speak concisely with people without it being interpreted as abrupt. There are so many workplace issues that there’s no “right” or “wrong” to, simply what’s normal in that particular workplace. The contextual nature of it doesn’t make it something that’s wrong with the OP; rather, it’s the OP’s fitting in at his or her particular workplace.

              OP said that her manager told her that her communication is too abrupt, not that she is an abrupt or rude person or that she has an awful personality. That’s not telling her that there’s something wrong with her as a person. That means she needs to improve her communication style (probably both orally and in emails).

            2. LBK

              That’s a semantic argument, though – if it’s something you’re doing that’s wrong, it’s inherently personal to you whether it’s phrased as being about you or about your actions. Your choice of actions stems from your personality and who you are as a person, so I’ve never really understood the “It’s not personal, it’s just what you’re doing that’s a problem” line of thinking. They’re intrinsically linked. Sure, one is a little easier to hear, but they mean the same thing and require the same change in the end – which is altering your behavior to change how you’re perceived.

              1. fposte

                But semantics aren’t insignificant, and a semantic difference can make a huge psychological difference. Sure, they’re intrinsically linked, but lots of people don’t take “Your document has the wrong font” personally.

      2. Nerdling

        I agree. Plus, inner soul searching isn’t going to help the OP necessarily to see the concrete ways in which s/he needs to change his/her communication style. It’s so much easier, more constructive, and simply more effective to have specific examples to work from when it comes to changing ingrained behavior.

        1. SJP

          Thing is, the manager probably has done by the sounds of it in the ‘weekly take her aside meetings’.. We don’t know that..
          What Im TRYING to get across that clearly OP isn’t accepting what she’s being told and needs to look inside and realise that she needs to change her behaviour after specifically being told multiple times that it doesn’t fit for her boss or coworkers…

        2. Cassie

          I agree that inner soul searching isn’t going to help someone who doesn’t know “how” to be more polite and less abrupt – it’s like telling someone who has weak writing skills to “write better”. If they knew how to write better, they probably would.

          However, I don’t get the feeling that the OP doesn’t know how to make their emails/communications less abrupt per se – it feels like the OP is upset/frustrated about being told to be less abrupt and that it somehow makes him/her a horrible person. To me, the question seems to be – how can I get my boss to get off my back about being too abrupt, when I have to be this way because I’m too busy to be nicer?

          And something the OP’s boss may not be seeing – if the OP has an attitude of “I’m too busy to be nice”, the boss may not realize the OP doesn’t know how to be less abrupt and assume that the OP chooses to send out emails that are abrupt. So maybe that’s why the boss isn’t giving examples or editing the OP’s writing or whatever.

      3. Ness

        Thankyou Mike C

        This is the problem – the feedbak is vague, i have asked repeatedly for clear consice information and instructions on how to do this.

        1. Kelly O

          Ness, I don’t think there is a way to give you instructions on how to be less abrupt.

          We’ve brought up several suggestions in the course of this thread – things like simply adding “thank you” or “please” or even softening up your emails a bit with greetings and closures to “sandwich” your request.

          I saw your earlier comment about only getting this feedback in the last 12-18 months of your 5 year tenure. That doesn’t mean no one felt it needed to be addressed before. Telling a person this sort of thing can be difficult, and it may have been waiting to see if the communication changed.

          Again, it’s just email that seems to have the issue, and that can be easily remedied with a little work on soft skills. I know you’re task-oriented, and I appreciate that, but some things cannot be broken down intelligibly into tasks.

          There are some good books out there on communication – “How to Say It” by Jack Griffin is a good starting point, and I also like “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson. Meryl Runion has some books with “Perfect Phrases” in the title that I’ve heard good things about too.

          Again, please understand I’m not saying there is anything wrong with you. There is not. This isn’t meant to be personal. It’s feedback you can use to improve your working relationships with others, and that’s a valuable gift.

          Sometimes, the way we react to feedback, especially feedback we may not initially want or understand, goes a long way in showing others how we learn and how we lead. If used as a springboard to make positive change, this could even show the powers that be (or at least the powers making the suggestions) that you can understand what they’re telling you, apply the lesson, and move on to the next thing with professionalism, a bit of grace, and a positive attitude toward change. It’s all in how you look at it.

          1. Sarah

            Another point – there are things that I let slide when I see them in junior members of the team, but that I can’t accept in more senior members. I have two members of my team whose written communication need improving. I am working with each of them to coach them on this, but it’s far more urgent that the person who supervises others and communicates constantly with people at higher levels outside the team gets the tone and style right. Maybe part of it is that, it was less of an issue before, but now that you’ve been promoted and line manage people it’s becoming more significant.

            (On thanking previous bosses, thought at the time that my first boss was super picky, always redrafting and coaching me on my writing style but now I really appreciate it!)

    2. QA grump 42

      You have no way to know OP would dislike being treated the way she treats others, and it’s not relevant. I find many forms of politeness actively unpleasant – I often read them as passive aggression, and really appreciate my one super-blunt coworker. Every time someone sends me a “friendly reminder” with a please/thank you/smiley face I have a brief urge to move their request to the bottom of the pile. The point is that her coworkers apparently don’t like it, and that’s what matters, not what I or the OP would like in their place.

      1. SJP

        Very true, I don’t think of it like that. I’m English so we do the nicey nicey politeness a lot and personally I love that we do, so I cannot stand people who are too abrupt and cold.

      2. Sadsack

        We have a saying going around my organization, I think it is called the platinum rule: “Treat others how they’d like to be treated,” as opposed to, “Treat people how you’d like to be treated.” I think it fits in this case.

      3. ExceptionToTheRule

        Being given straightforward and blunt feedback about her communication style is sending the OP home in tears and prone to panic attacks because she’s internalizing it as an attack on her personality. This might be a good moment to reflect on the fact that her tone & approach might be doing the same to others.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot

          Excellent observation.

          – someone who had jerk bosses who made her cry daily

      4. Anonsie

        Same. I mean, I’ll do it when that’s the expectation for a company’s culture, but boy do I not like it.

        1. Ness

          Sorry not this- it’s appeared in the wrong place. I totally disagree with exception to the rules comment. I always strongly think about what I am doing wrong and how I am perceived – I do it when I’m trying to sleep mostly. I don’t think it’s helpful to make general sweeping comments on how I ruminate on my own flaws and if or how often I do

  9. Malissa

    OP, it’s worth your time to take a class or two on personalities and communication. Seriously eye opening stuff. I say this as the person who used to very abrupt and had similar issues. And the payback in how much smoother interpersonal relationships work is immense. Also after you take the time to establish a good working relationship with people you can slide back a little but and be a little more abrupt in the name of efficiency. Because at that point people will understand you are in a hurry/that’s just your style and not just rude.
    I had a boss once tell me just because you only need 6 words to say something doesn’t mean the other person needs more than six words to hear it.

    1. Ihmmy

      This! Also keep in mind many people feel very rewarded/satisfied when they get thank you’s and appreciative comments. I am certainly one of those folk – a thank you email when I complete a big task is great for me and I pocket a few of the nicer ones in case I’m having a tough day.

      Think of it this way: if you say please and thank you and appreciate it, you’re showing your coworkers you do truly appreciate the efforts they make. Yes maybe it’s a routine part of their job, but them doing it in a timely/well executed manner makes your life easier. If you say please and thank you, you’re encouraging them to continue helping you out.

    2. Ness

      OP – Hi Malissa

      I have actually done this – when this was bought up (again not for the first time)in october last year, i asked for and received the budget and time to attend a training day on effective communication. I really didn’t feel i got much out of it. In fact the trainer indicated i had pretty good abilities in my commnucation styles and adjustment for different personality types and was surprised I was there.

      But i really like the “I had a boss once tell me just because you only need 6 words to say something doesn’t mean the other person needs more than six words to hear it.” I will take this on as a Mantra from now on :)

      1. Malissa

        There’s a difference between effective communication and communicating to different personality types. Take a another class or read more books if you can. This is a skill that can be learned.

  10. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor

    I’m sure the feedback is difficult to hear, but be thankful your manager is giving you feedback. That gives you the opportunity for improvement thus making yourself more marketable.

    1. Rat Racer

      I was going to post something similar. Especially if your manager is willing to help you by giving you examples not just of what you’ve done “wrong” but how to improve. I know I spend an inordinate amount of time wondering how my emails are read by colleagues, how to balance kindness, brevity and clarity, etc. Most of us never receive feedback on our affect with people, but the negative consequences show up in other insidious ways. Direct feedback can feel like a punch to the gut, but in the long run, if you can adapt, it will continue to pay dividends for the breadth of your career.

    2. Ness

      How do i stop taking it personally though? Rhetorical question i don’t expect you to have some magic answer :)

      1. Zillah

        I know it’s a rhetorical question, but:

        You said in your letter that you’ve been repeatedly taken aside and told that your communication style is too abrupt, abrasive, or assertive, and is rubbing your colleagues the wrong way, correct?

        To me, while I understand why you’re reacting poorly to it, especially since it’s happening so often, the jump from “your written communication is coming off poorly” to “you’re a horrible person and you need to fix your awful personality” is a bit… extreme. Maybe there’s something about the delivery that you haven’t mentioned, but with just that information alone, I just don’t really see that insinuation.

  11. Adam

    I’m someone who personally appreciates “to the point” speak when it comes to the office as beating around the bush for no reason drives me insane sometimes. Some days I feel like if have to hear one more flowery say nothing speech with the words “organic” and “process” in the same sentence I’m going to “Hulk Smash!” the copy machine.

    But there is a socially appropriate way to go about it. When engaging with others the key is to be respectful in word and tone as well as give the other person plenty of room to speak their own mind and in their own style, even if it’s more drawn out than you would prefer. If you keep this in mind I imagine you won’t be getting any more feedback on this topic. Who knows? People may find your “no fluff” style refreshing and try to emulate it if they see that it can work well.

    1. Anonicorn

      Exactly. I don’t think “to the point” and “pleasant” are mutually exclusive, nor does the combination necessitate fluff language.

      It maybe the simple difference between Send me the Bowtruckle file, and Would you please send me the Bowtruckle file.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger

        Slight adjustments to punctuation and formality level can make a difference, too. “Thanks!” feels more friendly than “Thank you.”, for example.

        1. Anonsie

          I’ve actually tried to break myself of the habit of automatically softening emails with exclamation points, especially for thank yous. I think little ways of sanding down the tone of your emails like this are good to use when needed, but I avoid doing it as a default. I think there’s some levels of authority coded in how and when you use small softeners like this at work.

          1. Anna

            I think there’s something to this. I tend to ask myself if what I’m asking is putting someone out or if I’m asking a favor, I’m going to soften, smooth, and make it as nice as possible.

          2. Ness

            OP – Thanks Anonsie – i am glad to hear that you think using exclamation points is a good thing.I do occassionally put exclamation points/ marks next to my thankyous and then 9 times out of ten look at it and then delete it as i am worried this may be percieved as abrasive and/ or rude :) – Just wondering if anyone else has any thoughts on this?

            1. Zillah

              I’m not sure I’d ever interpret an exclamation point after a “Thanks” or “Thank you” as abrasive or rude. After most other sentences, sure, maybe, but not there.

            2. DMented Kitty

              I sometimes send pretty curt emails, fortunately no one has complained. Like I reply just the single word “Done.” when someone requests me to do something. It’s just not my personality to start an email with “How are you doing? Blah blah blah small talk…” for the most part — I feel really awkward doing that. Same with instant messaging.

              I do add a “Hi” and “Thank you” in emails, and am conscious enough to realize if my message is starting to sound cold… I don’t typically use exclamation points, but a “Thanks!” exclaimed in the right context works just fine. Otherwise, a normal “Thanks.” or “Thank you.” or “Appreciate this, thank you.” works as well. There was one lady who has “Thank YOU!” in her email signature, and that to me makes me raise my eyebrows and wonder if she really meant that.

              I hardly make a peep in my cube so I don’t usually end up being small talk bait, but when I overhear conversations I sometimes butt in (I do consider what type of convo it would be appropriate to butt in or not), and my coworkers think I can snap the wittiest remark when they pass jokes around. I guess that’s one way to put my sharp tongue to use.

              1. Kara

                I use “Done!” or “You got it!” when responding to some emails, but it’s after a relationship has already been built with that person and we’ve talked on the phone many times. One I use with my boss all the time is “Yep!” and he will likewise send me “New!” or just “FYI”. But because we’ve talked many times and he knows my voice and I know his, it works. I would NEVER communicate that briefly and abruptly with someone I haven’t already built a relationship with.

  12. OriginalYup

    I’m very direct and concise in work communications by default and preference. So I have to consciously think about how to do this differently when required (which it often is my work, due to relationships with clients and cross-cultural considerations).

    Things that have helped me include:
    – Finding someone who does “tone” really well and analyzing what they do/not do, so I can learn from that.
    – Developing a mental model for conversations and emails that I use as the ‘talky model’ when I need to.
    – Reminding myself that 2 minutes (or 5% of the conversation or whatever) that helps to establish rapport or the other person’s comfort is an investment in successfully getting my message across.

  13. Future Analyst

    I’ve also gotten feedback like this (though curiously, only from my current manager), and it’s really useful to ask for specific examples. My manager printed out examples of emails in which he thought I was too direct/”cold” and walked me through them. For about 30% of the examples I couldn’t see it, but for the rest it made sense… I could see how someone would interpret them as harsh.

    I am curious about the fact that you’re told that it’s a big enough problem to address weekly, but not enough of a problem to address through “official” channels. This makes it seem as though it’s more of a preference on the manager’s part, not actually something that affects your work.

    1. OfficePrincess

      It could also be that something as subjective/open to interpretation as tone would be hard to document and lay out a PIP for. I know my company requires basically an airtight documentation, so anything going through official channels has to be purely objective and evidence based.

    2. blu

      I dunno, I kind of think the official channel request is just one more signal that OP may be a little socially tone deaf. Manager is probably thinking “Look I’m just asking you to soften up your approach a bit” and in response is being told, I need a formal PIP to address this. If that is how OP is approaching things, I can see how their approach may be viewed as too abrupt. If this is how OP deals with manager feedback, then how are they dealing with their fellow coworkers?

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yeah, that’s my take too. The majority of things people get feedback on aren’t things that would make sense to do a formal PIP over.

      2. Eric

        But telling your manager you won’t change your behavior unless you get put on a PIP strikes me as a much more serious issue, perhaps worthy of a PIP itself.

        1. Not Today Satan

          I agree. It kind of seems to me like they’re trying to say, “Oh, it’s not serious for a PIP? Then I guess it doesn’t matter :)”

          1. LBK

            Yes, that’s exactly how I would read that response. “If you’re not punishing me, it must not matter.” Well, no, that’s not really how feedback from your manager works.

        2. JMegan

          +1

          Bottom line, you need to do what your manager is asking you to do.

          Try to think of it as changing your *behaviour*, rather than your personality. And also keep in mind that you probably have different behaviours for different situations in your life already – chances are you behave differently when you’re visiting your Granny in the nursing home, than you do when you’re relaxing on the beach or going out for drinks with friends.

          The behaviour you’re exhibiting now may have been appropriate for a different office, but it’s clearly not appropriate for this one. Your manager is trying to help you, not get you in trouble – so please allow her to do that, rather than forcing her hand to a PIP and making this a much bigger deal than it needs to be.

      3. Future Analyst

        I’m not sure I saw that the OP was demanding a PIP, just that she was asking for more concrete feedback (which I would encourage, I think s/he just asked for it awkwardly). I could see someone in this situation needing a more formal approach, since the OP’s interaction style is black-and-white, and those of us who operate like that don’t like gray areas.

        I absolutely think the OP should heed her’s manager’s advice and work on softening his/her tone, but I also think that requesting “formal” feedback could just be the OP’s way of asking for concrete examples.

        1. BRR

          Yes, I don’t think the OP wanted a PIP. Just something more formal. Perhaps they wanted concrete goals to meet or even concrete actions to take. It’s possible the feedback they’re getting is literally only, “You’re too abrasive in your communications.” Not very helpful.

          1. Spiky Plant

            But, it’s really as helpful as it needs to be. OP doesn’t give any indication that she doesn’t understand what the problem is (there’s no “I’ve tried this, this and this, and it hasn’t worked, help!” there’s just “My manager tells me every week to do this differently, and I tell her every week that I’m too busy.”) Since the problem has been going on for 12 months, I’m guessing OP would have said something differently here if it were really a matter of “I literally don’t know what I should be doing differently, I have no idea what the problem is.”

          2. LBK

            There’s a difference between asking for specific examples or more specific guidance on how to improve and requesting to have official performance management (which I don’t even really understand how to interpret as a request other than as a write-up or PIP). You can still make something an informal feedback session with your boss while asking for more detailed help. I do it pretty much every time my manager gives me feedback because I want to be clear on what’s being expected of me.

      4. KT

        +1. Soft skills play a huge role in careers, perhaps even more so than actual work. The “how” you do things, instead of the results. Learning to play well with others and work with each other is pivotal, even if it would be difficult (if not impossible) to go on a PIP.

        1. Well

          The only caveat, I’d say, is that I frequently think the distinction between “soft skills” and “actual work” is pretty unclear.

          Is your job to talk to clients/donors? Well, soft skills probably determine your success. Are you in a leadership position? Ditto. Are you the person who is supposed to greet visitors to the office and make them feel welcome? Again, soft skills. Is it your job to work with staff in several different departments to make sure their activities are coordinated? Again, soft skills.

          Odds are that unless you’re an individual contributor in a carefully circumscribed technical or creative role, the core responsibilities of your job depend upon other people in some fashion, and that means that soft skills *are* your actual work.

  14. nona

    I tend to talk the same way. Some things to think about:

    1. You’re not being asked to change your personality. Your personality is a) totally fine and b) not really part of the issue here. You’re being asked to change your behavior.

    2. Your coworkers may also be busy. And if they can communicate quickly and politely, you can use them as an example. I know I notice when someone takes a few seconds to add a greeting to an email or use a nicer, friendlier tone.

    3. I really, really understand how frustrating and exhausting this can be. But your coworkers are probably frustrated, too. When you have a better relationship with them, you can help each other out, or at least ease the stress a little.

    1. JB (not in Houston)

      I think this is a great way to say in a different way what Alison and others have said–you are looking to change your behavior, OP, not who you are as a person.

  15. CrazyCatLady

    I write short and to the point emails but since I know it’s not the norm in my office, after I write it, I go back in and add “Hi Jane” and some please and thank you. It doesn’t take much extra time but I think folks here appreciate it. I find it harder to manage this for in-person interactions though.

    1. Sheepla

      This is what I do as I have been accused of being “curt” in my emails. So I write the email that I think is fine, then go back and add a few “softening” words. It only takes a few seconds and while I think it is a waste of time, it clearly means something to others, so why not?

    2. fposte

      It’s funny, because I would default toward the curt in emails if I could, but I don’t really enjoy getting emails that sound like the ones I’d write. So a lesson there, I suppose.

      I think us task-oriented folks can treat people the same way we’d treat machines–I query, I get a result. But people aren’t machines, and you get a lot better results from most of them if you treat them in a way that acknowledges that.

      1. CrazyCatLady

        I’m the same way! I tend to take curt emails or curt behavior somewhat personally even though that’s how I am. But, it also depends on context for me. Is the person always curt? Then fine. But if the person is usually friendly and open and then I get a curt response, I don’t like it.

        Great analogy too, with treating people the way we treat machines. Query, result/answer. I wish people were machines!

      2. Allison Mary

        “But people aren’t machines, and you get a lot better results from most of them if you treat them in a way that acknowledges that.”

        I love this! I think this accurately captures what’s at stake when it comes to workplace communication. It boils down to straightforward pragmatism and logic, which I love. Yes, you could make requests with the fewest, to-the-point words possible, but people are creatures with emotions and sensitivities, and there are whole groups of people who will give you much better results if you approach them with that in mind.

      3. Natalie

        I’m similarly curt in emails, and I’ve noticed that the only time it bothers me from other people is if I don’t like or respect them for some other reason. YMMV.

      4. So Very Anonymous

        I work with someone who is noticeably curt in their emails– given the nature of what they do, I think they’re using boilerplate, but because people in my department generally only get email from this person when we’ve made a mistake, the boilerplate definitely translates into curtness, and people get their feelings hurt. It can get especially overwhelming when there’s a longer email conversation with too much “you did this wrong” and no softening. When that’s happened to me, I generally try to go have an in-person conversation with this person, because in person they’re lovely and smiley and fine. It’s so easy to slip into machine-voice, machine-behavior with email.

  16. OfficePrincess

    As much as changing how you come across can feel difficult, I would LOVE to get solid feedback on how I come across to people. From what I can tell, everything is fine, but I have anxiety that always makes me not trust my instincts and wonder what people really think (they all hate me, they’re just humoring me, they can tell I’m in over my head, etc). Hearing someone tell you that there’s a disconnect between how you think you come across and how other people see it is incredibly valuable.

    1. Jen RO

      I really appreciate it when people on my team ask me that… and when they actually listen. (Of course, the one person who really *needs* this feedback argued with me that it’s “not fair”… sigh.)

    2. Vanishing Girl

      Me too, for the same reasons. Sadly, I’m in a feedback-free area these days. Direct feedback can be a blow at first, but it’s extremely useful.

      I try to think of constructive feedback as if they didn’t care about how you’re doing, they wouldn’t give you feedback at all. So even getting feedback is good if you know it’s coming from a sincere and concerned place.

  17. illini02

    I’m a pretty to the point person, plus I made the decision to not really be “friends” with any of my co-workers outside of work. My last review I got a version of this. Nothing terrible, just saying that some people don’t think you like being here because you don’t seem happy. I’m not a super cheery guy by nature, although I’m not grouch either. But compared to the other 90% of my job, I am. So yes, I have to try harder sometimes. However it has improved my interactions with my colleagues. Maybe its worth it.

  18. spek

    So you come across as assertive and hard as nails to your coworkers, and then when called on it in a professional manner, you break down in tears?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I actually don’t think that’s contradictory. Some people get very upset at critical feedback, or at certain types of critical feedback. Doesn’t really have anything to do with their overall personal style with colleagues. It can actually be hard to predict who will react that way!

      1. fposte

        I think also this is somebody who really feels like changing this would mean being a whole different personality, so she feels really stuck.

        But it’s not a whole different personality, OP, I promise. And I hope Jamie posts on here, because she’s talked a lot about moving past this obstacle herself.

        1. BRR

          This is a good insight. It’s really a minor adjustment. In the same way the feedback is about action and not personality, the change is in action and not personality.

    2. Partly Cloudy

      According to the OP, this has been going on for 12 months. If OP is truly at a loss as to how to correct the problem, I can definitely see the frustration manifesting in tears. And OP says “sending me home in tears” so I don’t think OP is breaking down in front of anyone at work, but privately.

    3. Malissa

      I can see this. She’s getting feedback saying there is a problem, but no actual solutions. Which, in my experience, is extremely frustrating. If a person can’t pick up on the cues that their way of communicating is abrupt, then they are likely not going to be able to intuit what needs to be done to fix it.
      Thankfully I had a boss that got this early in my career. I was explicitly told, your communication style is a bit rough. Followed with, ‘Here’s a class HR is offering, take it.”

    4. Katie the Fed

      I think you have to think of this from her perspective. OP is a task-oriented person. For highly task-oriented people, they’re so focused on the task at hand and getting it done right, they can kind of forget about the the people parts of the job. It’s not intentional – OP is just trying to get the job done in the way she thinks is best. She’s not consciously trying to be “hard as nails.” So when you spend all day doing your job (as you see it) and doing it well (which she clearly is, based on the feedback) but then you keep hearing about the thing you’re not doing well – it’s totally demoralizing. I also get the sense OP is a perfectionist – even harder to hear that kind of feedback.

      I get OP because I know people a lot like her. Let’s cut her a little slack – she wouldn’t have written in if she wasn’t making an effort :)

      1. Ness

        OP – Thanks Katie

        I really do think that you are on the money with what you have said. I am very task oriented which i understand comes across as “hard as nails”. I am making an effort, I am in a way asking for opinions from total outsiders on how the situtation can be perceived from all different angles, which is definatly what i am getting. As a task oriented person i suppose what i am asking for is practical task orientated advice/ programs/ tools i can use to rectify this.

  19. KathyGeiss

    Allison’s advice is great and so are many of the comments. One other thing to consider: you’re to the point because you’re very busy but often, developing good working relationships can help speed up sticky processes and move things along more quickly. It will take some extra time to soften your communications but you very well may get that time back as people become more comfortable working with you. It will also pay back if you get into a snag and need help from colleagues. People are much more willing to help when they have a good relationship with the person requesting help.

    Also, just to reiterate, you don’t have to change your personality. I know very direct and to the point people who have softened their communications style over the years. They are still the same person, just more enjoyable/ less stressful to work with.

    1. Development professional

      This is so true! It can be an investment of time that pays off in efficiency later, like the time you spend planning or even filing. In a weird way, relationship management with your co-workers is a kind of systems management, where the system is a good working relationship with your colleagues whose input and work product you need to do your job.

    2. AnonAnalyst

      This is a great point. Rightly or wrongly, often people will try harder to help if they have a good relationship with you. I know it seems like it shouldn’t matter, but for me at least, when I get a question or request from someone I have a good relationship with, my sense of urgency to help is a lot higher than with someone I don’t. I’ll always respond or follow-up, but the relationship I have with the person can definitely change the priority level in my queue, all other things being equal.

  20. Cruciatus

    I actually didn’t take it as communication in emails, but rather face to face (but maybe both). I think the OP could use some guidelines for stopping an actual conversation politely so they can get back to work without it seeming too abrupt. I have trouble with this myself. Apparently when I’m at my most stressed I actually look calm and relaxed because that is when people choose to talk to me about their weekend plans, or that weird thing Carol did or whatever. I know it’s ridiculous, but I have trouble just saying “I’m sorry, I’m working on something right now, but if you stop by after lunch I might have a minute then.” I actually feel like that’s abrupt when it really isn’t! But I don’t cut them off…I wait until a natural breaking point to get back to it. But, back to the OP, that’s how I first read it–that they are too brusque in person and maybe could use some scripts to handle that.

    1. Ness

      OP- Sorry I maybe wasn’t clear in my original post this feedback is specific to my written communication

    2. WeirdCarol

      “or that weird thing Carol did or whatever”. I have to respectfully disagree with this particular portion of your feedback. Gossiping is never cool. It ruins lives. A gossip caused me to lose everything years ago and I still have not recovered professionally or financially (I did nothing wrong, my only crime was being a little different). Other than that, I agree wholeheartedly. Get to know your coworkers because who knows, they may be cool.

  21. TotesMaGoats

    Lots and lots of people across a variety of fields are super busy in their day to day jobs and still manage to send emails and have face to face interactions that are pleasant. You’ve been told what you need to change about your behavior. Smile more. Friendly-up your emails. And for the love of God, stop saying you are so busy. That’s statement really fires me up. We are all busy.

    This isn’t PIP worthy in my opinion until you get to the point that you are intentionally not improving in areas that your boss has told you to improve. If you need examples ask for them but you need to do something.

    1. Ness

      Op- opening up a whole different can of worms here, but because in all other aspects of my job I’m pretty fantastic I tend to get rewarded with more work and more responsibility than my collegues

  22. Xarcady

    Terse and to the point, that’s me.

    I have found that softening my style has helped immensely. The extra time it takes is offset by how much easier it is to approach other people, and how much more quickly they approach me when there are problems.

    Sometimes I roll my eyes at myself–did I really just put three exclamation marks in a email to a co-worker?–but other people seem to like this stuff.

    Try the usual stuff–say Hello when you first see someone, talk about the weather if you are on the elevator together, complain about the coffee/parking/traffic/whatever the whole office complains about when you see someone in the break room.

    For each co-worker, I try to remember what their favorite thing is, and about once a month, I ask about it. How’s the grandbaby, the softball team, what about them Red Sox?, how’s the puppy doing, how’d you do on the last 5K? It feels, to me, stiff and formulaic. But when I ask, I see people’s faces light up, and we spend a minute or two talking, and then we get down to business. I am no longer perceived as prickly and stubborn, people ask to work with me and my last evaluation, my manager thanked me for getting along with all my co-workers so well (there’s been a ton of drama in certain circles lately).

    And if all that seems fake, softening up your overall impression could help. Bring in doughnuts or bagels or extra tomatoes from your garden. Offer to help when someone else is swamped. Volunteer to change the toner, or always make a new pot of coffee. Even if your communication is short and terse, if you are seen as a helpful person around the office, this can offset the abruptness somewhat.

    1. Dang

      I love this approach. I am not an intensely social person, but I make an effort to do the same- remember something about a coworker and strike up a conversation about it every now and again.

      I also use a lot of exclamation points in my writing… which does not match my speaking tone AT. ALL. So your comment about three exclamation points in an email made me laugh.

    2. Katie the Fed

      I work with someone like this – you can tell she’s making an effort to be social and nice but it’s not her instinct. It’s very funny – like you say, once a month she’ll strike up a conversation and we’re like “um, what is this?” but I also recognize that she’s making an effort so I appreciate it :)

      1. Xarcady

        I sometimes feel that everyone else was handed a script about life when they were born, and I wasn’t. All the social chit-chat and easy conversation about nothing that other people do all the time as if it was nothing at all is so hard for me. What to say? How to say it? When to say it? Why say it at all? What is the point? When did everyone else learn the rules about this stuff and why didn’t I?

        If I hadn’t found a few “rules” for myself, I’d probably be ostracized and a hermit by now. Or at least, very unpopular.

        1. Hazel

          I felt like this too. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with Aspergers that I finally understood why I struggle through social interactions and had to use scripts to make it through conversations. (Not that I’m saying you have Aspergers! Just that I can empathise.)

        2. fposte

          I think that’s true of a lot of people–maybe most people. It’s just that from the outside we look the same as the people who hit the ground being able to schmooze, so the notion that you alone lacked this ability is mistakenly reinforced.

          1. plain_jane

            And then I fear that I’ve gotten good enough at faking some of these things that people don’t understand that in a new situation they need to tell me the expectations, I don’t magically already know and I’m not going to notice subtle cues.

    3. Claire (Scotland)

      Yeah, I do something similar. I think of it as practising speaking a foreign language. I know the “words” but I’m nowhere near fluent. Yet people seem to like that I make the effort even though it’s clearly clunky and awkward.

    4. Anonsie

      Good advice here, I do some similar things. I have been somewhat generously described as “blunt” by a lot of people and the biggest ways I maintain a good image are by being helpful and making sure there is at least a little social component to my relationships with people. People don’t interpret brevity as hostility when they know you to be kind otherwise.

  23. Tax Nerd

    In a prior (professional) incarnation, I realized that my business letters were very formal, to the point of being cold. I asked for, and got help from, my assistant. I asked her please to soften the letters, then tell me what she changed and why. (She was exceptionally good, and never changed the meaning of what I’d written, just softened the tone.) I learned a lot from her about on paper people skills (and I told her many times how much I appreciated her help).

        1. Development professional

          I used to do this for my boss in an early job. He had been a tax attorney in a prior career, and his letters came off as extremely formal and stiff. I enjoyed it and I enjoyed working with him on it. Although I think now, with the hindsight of another ten years or so of experience, that I could have approached my feedback to him in a more subtle way. In my case, I don’t recall him ever *asking* me to soften the tone. I just made it part of my proofreading process, which probably wasn’t appropriate. But he always seemed to appreciate the feedback and took almost all of my suggested edits, so I guess it worked out.

    1. Alter_ego

      I work in a technical field with people outside of the office who aren’t in the same field as me. I regularly ask one of my more senior coworkers to double-check an email I’m about to send answering a question that I think the answer to is very obvious, because I’m worried that I’m coming across condescending. they’ve been really great about it. I think it’s always useful to have a brain that isn’t your own interpreting your communication before it goes out, since they aren’t in your mind to know what your intent was, they only have your words to go off of.

      1. Anonsie

        Was it like Office Space? “I deal with the g-d customers so the engineers don’t have to. I have people skills! I am good at dealing with people! Can’t you understand that??”

  24. Dang

    I think it might help to get some specific examples the types of situations in which this happens. So if your boss mentions it, say something like “this is something I’d really like to improve on. Can you give me an example of an instance of when I’ve done this, so I can understand a bit more clearly?”

    I’m thinking that the biggest challenge regarding this would be that people who need your help might be a bit intimidated to ask. It’s always hard to ask someone questions or for assistance if they project the “I’m really busy and have no time for you” vibe.

  25. Addiez

    I received this exact same feedback a few years ago! Whenever I call someone now, I ask How are you then wait for the answer. When I email, I usually open with I hope you had a great weekend or I hope you’re having a great week. So easy. I bet you type ~50WPM at least, so it takes less than 15 seconds to add. It’s annoying, and inefficient, but it helps.

  26. Katie the Fed

    Hi OP!

    I wanted to weigh in because I totally get being so busy you feel like you’re drowning and don’t have time to talk to people or invoke social niceties. I get that – that’s been my life for a lot of my career (is once again right n0w).

    Here’s the thing – by being more pleasant with people, it helps you get your job done. Think of it as an investment in doing your job well – people will be more likely to help you, to work with you, etc, if they generally have nice interactions with you. If they don’t like talking to you, it’s going to be a lot harder to get the things you need to do your job, and then you’re in kind of a bad spiral where you’re perceived as rude so people don’t want to help you, so you’re more direct, and it just gets worse.

    I know this is hard thing to do. I had to coach one of my direct reports on it because she was similar. She was very task-oriented and didn’t understand that by railroading over her colleagues she was making her tasks harder in the long run. You don’t have to be a people-oriented person.

    Here are some tips to start with:

    Start by taking a sincere interest in other people and working on your empathy. If you were in their position, how would you want to receive a task?

    Use basic manners – please and thank you go a LONG way, especially in a busy office. A few times a week, make an effort to reach out to someone individually and say “you did a really nice job with project X – thank you so much!” Also, highlight their achievements to your higher ups – share the credit. “Thanks, Boss! We couldnt’ have gotten this done without Karen’s inputs!”

    Be sincere in your interactions. You’re thinking about getting the task done, but if you’re going to try to have small talk – be sincere!

    Ask people questions – make the time to talk to them about themselves, their work, etc. Show a genuine interest in them as people, not just widgets to help make a product.

    I know this is all going to be a big adjustment. You’re task-oriented! Your management is telling you that you’re good at getting tasks done. That’s great – some people are terrible at that. Now you just have to complement that fabulous side of your work persona with being a little more people -oriented.

    Oh! Alison had a great post about this that I commented on. I can’t remember who it was with – but it was “Ask a Diplomatic Person” or something like that. Alison – do you have the link?

    1. Ness

      OP
      Katie – I think you need to be my life guide/ business mentor :)

      I havent read the link as yet but will get to to immediatley

  27. Kara

    The LW says she’s “not rude, just to the point”, which I thought was a pretty key statement.

    Sometimes being “to the point” IS rude. I don’t know specifically how LW speaks to her co-workers, but as an example, if I were to simply walk up to my coworker and say “Jane, I need that spreadsheet by 5” (or to write that)? That’s to the point, but it’s also rude. It takes no more time or effort for me to say (or write) “Good morning Jane! Can you send me the teapot spreadsheet by 5 today? Thanks!”

    You don’t have to fill your emails with smiley faces and exclamation points or radically change your whole personality. You just have to remember to be polite and talk to people like people, not machines.

    1. KT

      TRUTH.

      I have a coworker who is know as “to the point” but it certainly goes into rude. A graphic designer did a piece for her, and it was lovely but not what she was looking for. She said to him “This is awful, I hate it”. To the point? Yes. Rude? Also yes. She COULD have said something like “I’m looking for something more minimalist, perhaps with a different color scheme” and it would have been fine, but as it was, it came off badly/

      1. fposte

        I think some people believe that rudeness has to be an act of commission–you have to say things like “What’s wrong with you?” or “I can’t believe that’s not done yet.” But in practice, rudeness is often an act of *omission*–it’s not saying hello, or thank you, or sorry for the rush.

        1. Serin

          That’s really well put.

          Think about how you communicate in an email that you know is going to be machine-processed — you hit Reply and type REMOVE and that’s all there is.

          The difference between REMOVE and “Could you please remove me from your mailing list? Thank you” — that’s the difference between how you talk to a human and how you talk to a machine. That’s what’s missing when people take efficiency too far. And their co-workers resent being treated like machines.

        2. Elsajeni

          Yes. And, rudeness doesn’t have to be deliberate. I think you and I had a conversation once about chronically late people, and you made a point then that I really liked, about the distinction between “Keeping me waiting for ages is rude and disrespectful of my time” and “… so therefore it’s evidence that you are a rude person who has no respect for my time.” My chronically late friend isn’t setting out like “Hahaha, today I will disrupt Elsajeni’s schedule by being forty-five minutes late to meet her for dinner! *steeples fingers evilly*”, and it’s good for me to remember that — but it would also be nice for her to remember that the effect is the same whether she’s being deliberately rude or just kind of thoughtless.

    2. Anonsie

      It’s also possible to be to the point without being rude, which is important for the LW I think. They don’t need to change their personality or their overall style, they just need to be aware of when it’s going to sound hostile and when it’s not.

      1. Kara

        Yes exactly. I think you can be to the point and still “mind your manners”. Say please and thank you. Greet people and sign off. It’s simple, basic courtesy.

    3. katamia

      This. I have some friends (not saying OP is like this) who pride themselves on being “to the point” and on similar things. And you know what? Their “to the point” is “rude” to me. I’ve seen them hurt other people’s feelings when critiquing their work, and I’m honestly not sure if they didn’t notice or didn’t care (at least some of the people who have been hurt have been fairly open about the way it made them feel). But even though they weren’t hurting me directly, it definitely changed the way I felt about them and how I behave around them. I don’t show them my work for input because I don’t want feedback like that (this wasn’t at work but rather in a writing group, so it’s not something that affected my job).

      1. Andrew

        I was in a writing group as well, and the people who were the most “to the point,” the most rude, and the most “…”I’m just saying” were the very people who got most offended when the same behavior was dished out right back at them.

  28. Jen

    There are many great suggestions above but I wanted to throw out one more (and I am sorry if someone has already suggested this, I haven’t read every single comment). If it is mainly e-mail communications, you might want to consider using some e-mail templates for requests, reminders, etc… and have it start out with a friendly-sounding greeting such as “Good Morning/Afternoon” or “Hi” etc… and close with “I really appreciate you help with this” or “Thank you for your help” etc… if you are too busy or too focused, this might be helpful. Good luck with everything!

  29. Gandalf the Nude

    OP, a really easy shortcut for adding some nicety to at least your emails would be to add a “Thanks!” to your signature so that it’s always there and you don’t have to remember to add it in every time. And keep the exclamation point, if it doesn’t bother you too much. I find it signals genuine gratitude more than a comma, which sometimes gives the impression of perfunctory or even passive aggressive “appreciation”.

    1. Ella

      I was coming here to mention the same thing! Adding in an opening and closing line to your email signature is an easy way to add some softening without adding time to your response.

      Another option that I’ve found really effective is text expansion. Add a few hotkeys for some commonly used phrases (thanks for your question, I appreciate your feedback, etc), and you don’t have to think about how to phrase things or spend the time writing it out. A little intro here: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/text-expansion-can-help-save-time/.

  30. Joey

    Op, it’s not that your communication style is wrong, it’s just that its not effective with people who like a different style.

    It’s not much different when you think to yourself “I wish this person would just come out and say what they need to say.” Those people should be trying to get to the point with you to be more effective.

    It’s that you’re speaking the way you want to be spoken to instead of speaking to folks the way THEY want to be spoken to.

    I’m no touchy feely type either but I know who likes that stuff so I do it with them. And it stil amazes me how much easier things are when I communicate in a way they like.

    1. Lily in NYC

      This is such a great point. I sort of had the opposite problem to OP a few years ago. I got a new boss and he was just so nasty in general and he also had a very curt communication style. I’m a cheerful person and had such a difficult time working with him – the nicer I was, the worst it got. I took DISC personality training when my office offered it and it was so eye-opening. I started being what I considered cold and abrupt with him (mirroring his style) and all of a sudden he started trusting me. All it took was my stopping with the “hello, how was your weekend” stuff and acting like a cold fish instead. I still hated his guts (he was so rude) until he left but at least we had a better work relationship.

      1. fposte

        Oh, that’s really interesting–it’s enlightening to see a story about somebody effectively making their communication *more* direct.

      2. CrazyCatLady

        Interesting! I did DISC personality training at one job and it actually was helpful for things like this. Just to be able to read that someone is a certain way IN GENERAL makes it much easier to not take it personally.

      3. Joey

        There’s a key trick in there if you didn’t notice it. Mirror the way people communicate and youll usually be effective with them. That is, if they are chatty be chatty with them. If they are dry don’t bother with the fluff. Ask any good sales person and they’ll tell you the same.

        1. AnonAnalyst

          Yes, this! I learned this trick long ago and it’s been very effective in establishing rapport both with clients/partners outside of the organization(s) I’ve worked for as well as with colleagues.

        2. Kira

          Ooh! Counterpoint! I think I communicate very similarly to one of the people I work with. But… she views it as rude, stepping on her toes, etc. Why? Well, probably because she’s a high level manager and I’m not. But I’m not sure how other people communicate with her, so I’m trying to figure that part out (maybe “Yes, Ma’am! and No Ma’am!).

  31. Anonymous Educator

    I’m interested in how abrupt we’re talking about.

    A) “Report. Wednesday. You.”
    B) “Have the report to me by Wednesday.”
    C) “Send the report to me by Wednesday.”
    D) “Can you make sure you send me the report by Wednesday?”
    E) “I’d like the report by Wednesday. Can you make sure you do that?”

    Either way, you really don’t have to think of this as an attack on your personality or a personality change. The personal and professional should be different. Obviously, there are elements of who you personally are that show up in professional life, but what I’ve learned from being a teacher is that to be a good teacher you shouldn’t show the students you but rather a version of you. It’s a little bit like a performance.

    And that make sense in a lot of contexts. If your waiter is having a crappy day, do you want her to take that out on you? No, you want her to smile and be polite. Likewise, if you’re naturally abrupt, that may not work for other people. You aren’t changing your personality, just your behavior to fit with expectations.

  32. Susan the BA

    I find that setting a pattern and developing relationships goes a long way towards softening people’s words. If someone sends me a super curt email and I don’t know them, or I know that every time I ask them for something all they do is complain about how busy they are, then I read I’m more likely to read the email as disrespectful, rude, and unpleasant. If I get the same email from someone who I know is generally helpful, responsive, and has demonstrated that they want to work toward shared goals (as opposed to being too busy with “their” work to care about “my work”), then the email doesn’t bother me.

    Not everyone has an overly warm/friendly/smiley-face communication style. OP, I encourage you to fake it a little bit (think of it as speaking a foreign language if that helps!) and also build relationships/trust with your colleagues in ways that feel genuine to you. That will decrease the impact of any one communication and hopefully reduce that feeling of panic before pushing the send button (which I know very very well).

    1. KWu

      This! I used to get this kind of feedback ALL THE TIME and looking back, I dug in my heels for too long feeling resentful that other people couldn’t just grow up already and stop being so sensitive. A good motivation for getting over that was that improving my communication really did help me be more successful at getting what I wanted from people. You gotta work with the reality around you, even if it’s below your ideal.

      Anyway, there’s the extra time you spend on individual communications in the moment, but also building relationships and getting to know people/having them get to know you is an upfront investment that reduces the need for those efforts on the individual bits of communication. It’s also worthwhile because you can make use of slack time before there are deadlines and then get away with being more brusque later, because people will know that’s just how you are.

      Two book recommendations: Having Difficult Conversations, and Getting More.

    2. Ness

      OP

      Thanks Susan the Foreign language thing has rung true for me – other people have suggested it too.

  33. Amber Rose

    Ask for help! Doesn’t have to be your manager. Anyone who represents the ideal for you at this skill. And don’t kid yourself: this IS a skill, one that comes easier to some than others. You’re not being asked to change yourself, only to learn a new skill.

    I bet your manager would stop mentioning it as much if they saw you making an effort to fix it.

    1. TootsNYC

      Yes–I’m glad someone said this. I want to underline it.

      Find a colleague who can be a bit of a mentor. First, find someone that people tend to like to communicate with, and look at what tools they’re using–openers and closers in emails, drive-by greetings, etc. Analyze and steal.

      And for an email sort of thing, see if there’s a colleague you can quietly and privately ask for some advice, or to read your email to see if it’s too blunt.

      1. Amber Rose

        Just today I had a coworker proof read my email because I sometimes have a hard time explaining things without sounding bitchy.

        She didn’t even blink, it was just a “yeah sure, I can do that” for her. And she gave good tips I’ll use next time.

  34. Rat Racer

    I’m curious as to whether the main problem is written vs. in-person communication. Both are solvable with new habits (new personality not needed! trust that you are a good person!) but written is an easier fix because you’re not reacting in real time.

    For in person communication – maybe you’re so deeply in thought that it’s hard to surface and migrate to social mode. Can you ask the co-worker banging on your office door to give you 2 minutes so that (a) you can wrap up what you were doing and (b) take a couple of deep breaths to clear out the annoyance of having to switch gears?

  35. AnonEMoose

    I feel for you, OP. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, burned the t-shirt, ritually scattered the ashes. And it sucks to feel like you’re just trying to get the 14 million things on your plate done in some kind of rational order, and everyone else is fixated on you not being “nice” enough (whatever “nice enough” means in the context of your specific office).

    Here’s what I did when I got similar feedback from a manager, and it seemed to help with the perception issue:

    1) In meetings, I tried never to be the one to speak up first when an issue was raised or a question asked (unless the question was specifically addressed to me). It helped people not think I was stomping on everyone else. Plus it gave me a minute or two to plan what I wanted to say so I could do it in a more “diplomatic” way. And sometimes, another coworker would say whatever I was thinking first, and I could just chime in with “I think Wakeen has a really good point, and in addition, maybe we should think about A and B issues, as well.”

    2) Also in meetings, or in-person conversations, I tried not to say “you should” or “I think we/you should…”. Instead I’d say something like “What if we…?” or “The options I see are…what do you think?” Or “Officially, Policy says X. Sometimes we can work around that by doing A and B, but I can’t guarantee whether that will work without more detail, and we’d need approval from Wakeen.”

    3) In emails, I try to always include a brief greeting and, where relevant, a little background on what I need. Something like “Hi, Jane – hope your week is going well. Barb needs me to finish the TPS report by tomorrow; if you could get me the XYZ spreadsheet by 3:00, that would help a lot. Thanks – let me know if you have questions or need anything from me!” (Or – “thanks – I really appreciate your help!”)

    4) I made sure that my manager noticed these steps, mostly by just briefly mentioning “hey, I’ve been trying out doing X in meetings, and I think it’s helping – what do you think?”

    (Don’t underestimate the importance of Step 4. It points out to your manager that you have heard and are trying to address the feedback (in a way that’s not obvious sucking up), it lets her know that you are open to suggestions. And if she has in front of her some specific steps you’re taking, it gives her something concrete on which to give you additional suggestions.)

    I don’t know if it’s universal, but just changing from I/you to “we” seemed to help a lot. Maybe because it makes your coworkers feel that you want to help them, and that you’re “on their side” (even if you actually disagree with whatever they’re asking). (Not in the sense of the nurse walking in and saying “How are we today?” though…more in the sense of “you’re coming to me for help with X issue, and that makes it ‘our’ issue, and we’re going to get it figured out.”)

    1. puddin

      WE – yes! not the ‘We’ first person plural, but the We are a team and I am not a dictator ‘We.’

  36. Dasha

    OP – what kind of industry are you in? As someone who has worked in a few different ones and I could see how coming from oh, let’s say a manufacturing facility to a like, a bank could cause this (just a random example). Maybe in the past you were conditioned to communicate one way and that was totally fine but now you need to accommodate your communication accordingly. I can understand why you would take it personally, “OMG they don’t like the way I talk?!” but try not to because this is something that you can easily fix!

  37. Molly

    I often have to have to-the-point conversations over the phone with clients who are inclined to have a longer conversation or who want to talk about things that I really just don’t have time to discuss. I’ve found it helpful to preface my abruptness with saying, “It may seem like I’m rushing through this – please know that I don’t mean to be insensitive or cut you off, it’s just that I have a lot of questions to get through and I want to make sure we cover all of them.” This may not work so well with colleagues, especially if it’s all the time, but in cases where it’s absolutely necessary, acknowledging it and apologizing for the abruptness may help.

    1. TootsNYC

      That’s how I handle it on the days when I’m really kind of crabby. I announce it, pre-emptively. “I’m so crabby today; I’m sorry in advance if I’m kind of testy. It isn’t you, I’m just crabby.” Everybody laughs at me (my “crabby” is pretty mild), and it helps me remember to not be quite so crabby. And if I do get testy, I can re-apologize, and it seems to get accepted more readily.

      So maybe not “I’m so busy,” but maybe “I’m having a tough time with being scattered today, so I’m sorry in advance if I’m sort of short. It isn’t personal!” and then an apology at the time of terseness.

      But I think that only works if you’re only occasionally crabby, or ultra-focused, or whatever.

    2. anon attorney

      This is a great point. I often do something similar because when you charge by the hour, there is a real tension between wanting to develop rapport (which means taking the time to interact with empathy) and not running up cost which the client won’t want to pay for. I’m a divorce attorney so this is a real issue with new clients or clients who are particularly distressed. As you highlight, I find naming the dilemma gives the client the chance to decide what he or she values more – cost saving or interaction – so we both know where we stand. There is an art to making someone feel heard without wasting their time and yours, but it is vital in my field.

      There’s a lot of great advice in this thread. When I was younger (and not yet a lawyer) I was quite frankly an asshole. Fortunately I had a great boss who coached me to soften my approach and I found, over time, that not only did making nice make work easier, but I actually enjoyed the improved relationships it brought.

      I can also say that dealing with rude or abrupt attorneys/clients is one of my least favorite things, and while I would not intentionally sabotage such a person, all things being equal their stuff gets dealt with later and less cooperatively than that of cordial colleagues.

  38. Mockingjay

    “that style doesn’t work well in the particular workplace you’re in.”

    Alison hit the nail on the head. It’s not about the work you do, it’s conforming to the workplace culture.

    My current small company is very much into feelings and relationships. It was a hard fit for me when I joined. I am direct and task-oriented, too, and I just didn’t get the bonding that had to occur during every meeting. After a while, I adapted – softening my tone for most emails, and giving coworkers innocuous bits of info about my life (sharing!).

    It doesn’t change the work I perform, only how I communicate info regarding that work. Think of tone as a mechanism to reach your audience – so they listen or read the info you want to convey.

  39. AE

    Former New Yorker here. This sounds like me vs. Southerners & Midwesterners. I’m also not an effusive person in general. I’m not into details which I consider minutiae but my boss thinks are important. It’s style, and the boss is always right, even if culturally insensitive.

    1. Katie the Fed

      This seems like a false dichotomy. You can be polite and friendly without being effusive or delving into minutiae.

      1. fposte

        Additionally, I don’t see any reason to think the boss is culturally insensitive–it’s the OP who’s out of step with the workplace culture, after all, and that’s the culture that’s important here.

    2. bridget

      It’s just as culturally insensitive to not attempt to adapt to new culture norms. If you know an effusive Midwesterner feels stung when you respond curtly, it doesn’t work to say “I’m a New Yorker, respect my cultural norms and get used to it.” Respecting their cultural norms means attempting to communicate in a way they won’t see as rude or hurtful (within reason), regardless of whether a boss insists on it.

    3. Joey

      when I first met one of my friends who moved from New York he told me “all you guys from the south tawk like a buncha friggin’ wussies.”

      1. Serin

        I have seen this in a regional context. I went to college in the Midwest, and took my first newspaper job in a tiny town in the South, and one of my co-workers had to take me aside and point out to me that a phone call that began [imagine rattling this off at top speed] “This is _____ at the Daily, and I’m calling to ask about the planned interstate construction” didn’t get me nearly as far as [imagine this at a much slower speed] “Good morning. My name’s _____ and I’m calling from the Daily. How are you this morning?”

    4. Ness

      Op- I’m Australian who works in Australia so I don’t think it’s a provincial thing

  40. some1

    From what I gather from the letter, the LW’s communication with her colleagues is the issue, but not with her boss.

    As someone who has struggled with the exact same issues discussed, I find it telling that the LW is able to turn off the abruptness/rudeness when she’s communicating with her boss. If my boss interrupts me, it’s much easier for me to make sure I’m listening to him and being polite when I am swamped than if it’s one of my coworkers. It’s something I work hard at to make sure I’m not that person who everyone says, “Well, I don’t want to ask Some1 for this because she will be a snot about it.”

    1. TootsNYC

      Also, it’s a matter of respect.

      You* have respect for your boss, because she’s your boss.
      But you really -should- have respect for your colleagues; they are just as important as your boss. Maybe more important–because they’re the ones -doing- the hands-on work.
      And, if you listen to your boss because they control your review, have the right to judge your performance: Well, this is a perfect example of the fact that your peers control your boss’s perception of you; they end up having a voice in the “how good are you at your job?” question. They deserve the same respect.

      *general “you”

      1. Ness

        OP- don’t think it’s helpful to assume I disrespect anyone in my work place. Because I don’t

        1. A Bug!

          I don’t think that you sound like you don’t respect your colleagues. But I think maybe you don’t see the value in making an effort to show it more regularly. I’m not talking grand gestures or changing who you are. But puddin made a comment today about making a habit of thanking people and acknowledging them and I replied to share that it made a huge difference in how people perceived my attitude. I was able to be more assertive than before while still being perceived as polite and professional, without making any changes to the rest of my communications.

          If you find ways to acknowledge people and show gratitude for things they’re doing for you, just by doing it at the start or end of your e-mails the way you already write them, I think you’ll find that over time people will start to perceive you differently. (It’ll help if you do it verbally where appropriate as well, because if you make it into a regular habit it’ll feel more sincere both to yourself and to your colleagues.)

          If I were you I might even start with an e-mail to the manager who gave me the feedback, just to sort of kickstart a perception change. “Thank you for the feedback you’ve been giving me lately about the perceived tone of my e-mails. I know I haven’t been taking it as well as I could have, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it and I’m going to start trying to write e-mails that better reflect my intention. Accordingly, my e-mails going forward will be written in lavender Comic Sans, and I will be replacing my signature with a series of kitten photos, and one puppy photo for people who don’t like cats.” Okay, maybe not that last sentence.

          Anyway, I feel for you and wish you all sorts of luck. Like, for reals – I’m remembering my own past feedback on the issue and it ties my gut in a knot. It might not have been personal, but boy it sure felt personal.

    2. Anonymousterical

      I’d argue that any employee, who essentially responds with “if this is really such a big deal, then write me up,”* when her manager sits her down for what is essentially a “you need to respect your co-workers more” conversation, has a communication issue with their boss. That’s a big issue and a giant bright red flag. If you’re going at your boss that way, how are you really treating your co-workers?

      * As a former manager very familiar with push-back during performance discussions, that’s what I hear when an employee says to me, “this is obviously an ongoing problem and that we should formalize these issues through performance management.”

  41. Lemons Into Lemonade

    OP, I feel for you! My manager recently did tell me that I need to ‘change who I am’ because of my more direct communication style. And yes, she used those words. It’s simply showing that she, or that organization, puts too much emphasis on something that you (and I for that matter) do not. It’s probably a bad cultural fit and won’t change unless she leaves or you somehow get another boss that cares about competence and output more than hugs and smiles. I’m not saying that you should ignore the feedback altogether, just consider the source and how others you work with respond to your communications with them. Good luck!

    1. fposte

      Well, now, hang on there; your manager did a crappy job of giving you feedback, but I think you’re locking yourself into a “we’re right and they’re wrong” narrative that’s pretty questionable, and you’re setting things up as really black and white. You can be cordial without being a hugger, and competence and cordiality aren’t automatically two different things–if you can’t muster the necessary workplace cordiality, that’s not being competent.

      Sure, it’s possible the OP’s manager is making it all up and is completely wrong, but it’s also quite possible that she’s right. Not liking what the manager said doesn’t increase the chances that she’s wrong.

      1. A Bug!

        Unsurprisingly, I agree with fposte. If your job involves dealing with people, then how you do that is absolutely a component of your overall competence within that job. The “hugs and smiles” component, if you will.

        Further, it’s really not uncommon for a “brusque” person to be completely unaware that there’s a problem until their manager brings it up. This doesn’t mean there’s not a problem. It could just as easily mean that the people who are unimpressed with your communication style aren’t comfortable telling you directly.

        But either way, if your manager’s telling you explicitly that your job involves a standard of politeness that you’re not meeting, then, well… lay on the hugs and smiles while you look for an employer with different expectations.

    2. Future Analyst

      LIL, I don’t agree that OP’s boss cares more about hugs and smiles than competence and output (there’s no way for us to know that from the letter), but I do agree about fit being an important measure of whether or not you’ll do well somewhere. If you know that you’re downright uncomfortable with what your manager expects, you can assess the situation as a whole and decide to look elsewhere. But even if you decide that you’ll never fit in at that particular office, you do need to be aware that many other places would have the same expectations, and weed out future employers accordingly, or adjust your approach. Bad management styles are not equal to being wrong about professional expectations.

      1. CMart

        I dunno, I sort of think that since this coaching has been going on possibly *weekly* for a year (that’s potentially 52 conversations!) it’s pretty clear the OP’s boss values competence and output over hugs/smiles, or whatever. If the value balance was reversed, OP would have been out of a job ages ago.

    3. Kara

      get another boss that cares about competence and output more than hugs and smiles.
      These two things are not mutually exclusive, but also no one is saying to go around hugging your coworkers. Just be polite to them. I care about competence and output, but I also care that my team members are being polite and mannerly when talking outside our team.

      1. Windchime

        Yeah, I agree. My boss is about as polite and cordial as possible, and he has never hugged anyone in the office as far as I know.

        Look, I get that the OP is busy, but here’s the thing–I’m guessing her coworkers are busy, too. I like to send succint emails and I don’t usually put a bunch of flowery language or emoticons in them. That’s not what people are talking about. But there is a difference between, “Send me the TPS reports” and “I need to get the Penske file to Mr. Peterman by three, so could you send me the TPS report before noon? Thanks!”.

        I’m guessing that’s all your boss is asking for; just a little bit of professional courtesy.

  42. Sarah in Boston

    I cannot recommend Sheila Heen and Doug Stone’s book “Thanks for the Feedback” enough. They break down different types of feedback, personal triggers/wiring, reframing etc. It’s one of the best books of this type I’ve ever read and I read a LOT. I saw her speak at the Mass Women’s Conference last December and it’s made a noticeable difference in my tendency to react defensively for example.

  43. Musician - Not a Dancer

    I’ve also had comments about my emails being too direct, even after I thought I had softened them. Hey- I summarize well, and they like my meeting summaries, so it’s not all bad. But I would love a”check for rudeness/tone” hotkey like there is for Spell Check (F7 in Microsoft).

    I also have to strike a balance between asking and telling in order to get information, responses or actions from people who do not report to me. Can’t be too abrupt, or too wishy-washy. If I don’t read, wait and read again before sending, I’m apt to be too abrupt even in messages I initially thought were fine. It really hurts when someone attacks your writing, even emails, because it’s personal.

    So, come up with a list of acceptable openings/closings (I like the email signatures suggestion!), and review how other people in your office write their messages. See if you can write the message in your boss’s “voice” or someone else’s. Maybe even ask your boss or someone you trust to review a couple of drafts to see if it’s closer to what they’re looking for.

  44. puddin

    I have had great success with always always always starting a meeting or an email with a Thank You. This will go a long way to softening any communication.

    “Thank you for asking, that is a great question.” (email response to an inquiry)
    “Thank you for taking the time to be here, I know we are all busy.” (start a meeting)
    “I appreciate the work that went into this, your expertise certainly shows. I have some ideas about how we can make it better.” (Using WE instead of YOU can make a world of difference to soften one’s tone.)

    Another softer phrases that I like:
    ‘How might we’ or ‘What is the best way’… – instead of ‘we should’ or ‘we need to’

    Many times, softening communication is about being inclusive and open-ended.

      1. puddin

        Dasha – thank you for the generous compliment! That is a great question*…I cannot really say there is one lesson that I picked these up from. I did get my degree in Business Communication, so I am certain I learned something for my time and money spent. Also, I am a salesperson by trade and by temperament, so many things are learned from regular sales training.

        One concept that has strongly shaped my interaction with people since I learned about it is General Semantics. It is an area of study that seeks to understand how the words we use effect how we think and behave. A great book on this topic is Language in Thought and Action by SI Hayakawa.

        * see what I did there

    1. A Bug!

      Acknowledging people and expressing gratitude even for tiny things that are part of their job* makes such a huge difference. I’ve been given the “you’re too abrupt and unapproachable” speech from management. It hurt a lot, and it felt really unfair because I was a very shy, awkward person with a lot of difficulty recognizing social cues and it really did feel like I was being told that my personality was bad.

      Eventually I came to the realization that my personality wasn’t bad at all; I just wasn’t expressing it effectively. I’m still awkward and I still miss social cues on a regular basis. But somewhere along the line I started making an effort to tell people I appreciated things they did that benefited me, even if they were just doing their job or even if criticism might have been more appropriate than thanks.

      I’m still just as direct and to-the-point as I was – perhaps more so because I’ve also made an effort to be more assertive. But I haven’t had an “unapproachable” complaint in years, and have had plenty of positive feedback from clients and colleagues, directly and indirectly, that my manners are both warm and professional. People are also much more accepting of my social ineptitude now that they don’t attribute it to an attitude problem.

      (*”It’s their job, people shouldn’t need to be thanked for doing their job” is such an obnoxious sentiment to me. I just can’t imagine what harm could possibly result from practicing gratitude.)

  45. FJ

    I have a coworker who writes very abrupt e-mails, and I have to say that it definitely changes my interactions with him. In person, he is generally nice and reasonable, but it gets worse over the phone and worse in e-mail. But e-mails, oh man are they bad. I read many e-mails from him as “what! you are implying that I don’t do my job!” and I automatically go into my own accusatory “no! i tried to do that weeks ago and you didn’t pay any attention!” mode… which isn’t good for the group morale or productivity in general.

    So – OP – i definitely encourage you to get specific wording examples and other things from your manager that will help this out. I wish someone told that to my coworker.

    1. FJ

      Also… phrases that have helped me out in e-mail and in-person
      “Can I get your help with…”
      “That is a great point, and I’d like to add…”
      “I agree with you in general, but I have concerns about…”

      For formal things… I have found that a little informality helps
      “Can I get a harumph on that?” or “I didn’t get a harump from Mr Johnson” – very good in conference calls

      It doesn’t have to be every e-mail or chat, but a little goes a long way

  46. Ann Furthermore

    I feel for you, OP, as I tend to be this way myself. It’s a recurring theme in my performance evaluations with my boss: “Your work is outstanding, but you have a short fuse.” It is something I’m aware of, and I do work on it, and in my last review my boss did say that she had noticed and appreciated the effort I’ve put into trying to trying to cultivate my warm and fuzzy side. And my abruptness and impatience is usually a function of my stress level.

    All that being said, though, there really is a value in trying to soften your approach, and oftentimes it’s the smallest things that can reap the biggest dividends. If you take a moment or 2 to try and establish a rapport with someone, it makes them more likely to want to help you out. Like if I have to call my cell phone provider, or talk to anyone else who works in a call center, I always open with, “Hi, how are you doing today?” Or if I’ve been on hold for awhile, instead of yelling the customer service rep about it, I’ll say, “Oh my gosh, you guys must be totally swamped today! I’ve been on hold forever!” I do this for 2 reasons. The first is purely selfish — if I’m the one person who’s been nice to them during a day of getting screamed at by customers, then I’m probably more likely to get what I want. And the second is just that working in a call center is a truly thankless job, and I feel for anyone who has to do it.

    For specific work-related things though, the small things translate to smiling or saying hello to people when they pass you in the hall or stop by your desk. Or, if you communicate a lot via IM, it’s easy to come off as abrupt when you don’t mean to. So if someone pings me with a “you busy?” I’ll reply with, “No, what’s up?” instead of just “No.” Or if I am busy, I’ll say, “Hey, I’m right in the middle of something. Can I ping you in half an hour?” instead of just “Yes.”

    I think of this kind of thing as the “social lubricant” that keeps things moving along. No, they shouldn’t be necessary, but the fact is that they are, and in most cases doing pretty small, insignificant things can really go a long way towards building solid working relationships with your colleagues.

    Also — I agree with whoever said that the “I’m busy” excuse can come off as a little rude, even if you don’t mean for it too. Everyone’s busy and has a lot to do. There are times when you can legitimately use that excuse — like if you’re in accounting and you’re trying to get the books closed at the end of the month — but usually, it can be off-putting.

    1. Serin

      I can’t imagine getting a ping that says “You busy?” and replying, “No.” It would sound like you thought they asked out of curiosity or something.

      “You busy?”
      “No.”
      “OK, thanks, taking a poll.”

      1. Ann Furthermore

        HA. This is usually from people I work with quite a bit, not just random people I don’t know, so there’s an established rapport there.

  47. penelope pitstop

    Apologies if someone else has said something similar–there were a lot of comments and I didn’t have time to scan them all. OP–I can relate. I have gotten feedback similar to you in the past and here’s what’s helped me:

    – I schedule short bursts of time in my day for ‘water cooler’ or tea/coffee breaks that get me away from my computer/desk and engaging with my colleagues. I’ve gone so far as to block my calendar for those time or set an away from desk. The point is, I let myself breathe and have conversations with people around me, then return to work. For multiple reasons, that helps my understand others’ better and them me. Now, I’m virtual…so the first 2-3 minutes of phone conversations are catch-up, before launching into work stuff. It may feel forced at first, but keep at it – you’ll be surprised how that will refresh you, build empathy in your work relationships and enable others to recognize and be okay with you switching into work mode.
    – For emails, that are consistent in structure and which I use often, I have templates with niceties written in. I pull them up and drop in the appropriate personalization and specifics so it doesn’t feel canned, but that way, I don’t have to think much about writing people-focused notes at a time when I’m super task-focused.
    – I make it a point to schedule in self-care. At times, I feel like I’m so behind that I take a backseat to work. After a long period of time like that, it’s unhealthy. It sounds stupid, but make sure you’re getting what you need nutritionally, in terms of being outdoors, exercise, time with friends, etc. When I managed my stress better, my interactions with others improved across the board.

    You’re not at all a horrible person and the fact that you’re upset about the feedback shows that what other’s think matters to you. This is just your work style, but knowing how others are perceiving it – who likely have very different workstyles and ways of working under stress will help you be more successful. Good luck, OP!

  48. LCL

    OP, you were told your manager thinks your communication style needs work. You didn’t specify if it was your writing (e-mal et al) or your speaking. Did your manager break it down? What has helped me in the past, if it is a verbal communication issue, is to speak aloud more of my interior monologue. Old me-worker would ask me to get something, I would immediately go get it and think I was doing good, meanwhile the asker thought I was rude because I just walked away from them. New me- ‘I don’t have that info, let me go look it up.’
    There is nothing wrong with you. Your tools aren’t working as well as you would like, so work on improving the tools. Your manager doesn’t want to start the performance management thing because your work is good. She just wants you to be more like her. Watch her for a week and see if you can pick up on some of her verbal time fillers. She should be giving you specific instructions but isn’t yet because this stuff is easy for her.
    (carefully edging away from the gender issues ’cause Allison said not for this post. This is hard.)

  49. Workfromhome

    I rarely am told I am to blunt in person but have on occasion revived this feedback on email. What matters to me is if this feedback is coming from multiple people. If 15 people tell me my emails are too abrupt I have a problem. If 2 people say they are too abrupt and 13 say no they are fine then its the 2 people with the problem not me. You can’t make everyone happy and there are always the few that want all the extra lines asking how they are and have a nice day that no one really needs.

    Business emails to me are just that business. I don’t even pay attention to if someone says have a nice day etc. Yes you need to be aware of the difference between asking and demanding.

    I have just as much issue with people who go to far the other way and add needless layers of text and are essentially being condescending by being overly nice. I know I don’t have tome to read to 3 paragraphs to find out you need report XYZ. To me

    Hey X,

    I need the XYZ report by Monday please.

    Is more than enough..

    1. Windchime

      I think this is fine. You have a friendly greeting (“Hey X”) and you say please at the end. That’s fine. I don’t think anyone is asking for “My Dearest Mr Peabody, If you are so inclined and if it is not too greatly inconvenient, could you please be so kind as to send the XYZ report by this Monday, the 18th of May in the year of our Lord 2015? I am forever your humble servent, Sincerely, Ms Windchime.”

      Sometimes I hear people confusing blunt with “Formal”. To me, formal is something like what I wrote above. Blunt is simply, “I need the XYZ report by Monday.”

      1. Ness

        OP

        I would say my emails do tend to be along these lines – what are everyone elses thoughts? too abrupt?

        1. Kara

          “These lines” being – “I need the XYZ report by Monday”? Yes. Way too blunt. If someone were to continually send me emails like that and nothing else, it would start to irk me. I probably wouldn’t complain about it, but it would irk me and it would affect my opinion of you.

          I have many thoughts based on your responses in this thread.

          Ness, I look back at how you’ve responded several times and what I’ve noticed is that in the communications where you are feeling defensive or where you contradict the commenter, you are VERY terse. You give one-line responses often simply saying “No. That’s incorrect” or “This is about X” as an answer. Now granted this is a blog/comment thread, not a professional email, but if that’s your general writing tone, I, too, would categorize it as terse and blunt and even slightly rude. In a couple of places it even comes across as vaguely condescending. (My impression.)

          You say you’re an excellent employee otherwise, you get given the harder assignments, and you are often praised for the quality of your work. Part of me wonders if you feel that those people who don’t meet your expectations or aren’t working at your level are not quite as “good” as you are and you devalue them, hence the terse communication. And my confession here is that I am the “rock star” person on my team and I get very frustrated with people who don’t work as fast or as accurately as I do and who don’t grasp concepts as quickly as I do, and frequently have to help people through a process multiple times. It is very hard for me (and has taken me a long time) to learn to take a step back and not “snap” or be terse in my communication with them, especially when I feel like they’ve done less than I think they should. In those cases I do have to work harder to soften my approach and remember that we all have different talents and skills. Also I am a Program Lead but not considered a manager in my company (because I manage contractors, not FTEs), so I walk a very fine line with how I can correct/guide people w/out overstepping my boundaries.

          To that point, you’ve said above that many of your communications are telling people they’ve done something wrong or haven’t met a deadline or otherwise failed in a task. Think about how you are feeling having gotten feedback that you need to change a behavior – that you are, in effect, doing something wrong and not meeting an expectation. You, yourself said it upset you, sent you home in tears, etc., and it seems that your manager’s comments to you were reasonably soft (possibly even too soft in that they were nonspecific).

          Now think about your communication to someone who has done something incorrectly. Are you “to the point” about that? Do you respond to them in the same way you responded here on the thread? How do you think it made them feel? Also are you in a managerial role over these people? Do you guide their work? In which case how to address them doing something incorrectly or delivering something late is completely different from how you might address it with a coworker. If you are a coworker a blunt email telling them they were late or that their data were incorrect might not be appropriate. And in any of those situation, as I said you see how upset and defensive getting criticized made YOU feel; think about how they would feel as well.

          Maybe none of this is on point, but it’s kind of what went through my mind as I scrolled through your responses. FWIW.

          1. Snoskred

            Kara – this was a deeply excellent comment.. :) Just had to say that.

            I will also say that I always use smileys in my emails and sometimes with comments I make on the internet and the main reason for that is because I have had trouble in the past with people misinterpreting my text without any emoticons.

            That was especially important in a recent job role where I had to give feedback to people I never met in different states of Australia.

            Having worked in sales face to face with people, then moving to call centres where all the body language stuff I knew from sales was taken away, and then moving to text only via email, that experience has demonstrated to me the importance of using *exactly* the right words combined with emoticons when it is text only.

            Because that is all the person receiving your email receives – text on a screen. :)

            1. Kara

              Thanks! :)

              I see some of myself in the OP (and some of another recent OP as well) and I know how hard it can be to receive that kind of criticism. It does feel personal and it can be hard to take. And I know EXACTLY what it’s like to say “I’m the type of person who speaks bluntly; you just have to accept me as I am” only to have a bunch of people be blunt back to me and suddenly realize … whoa, it’s not them. It’s me. And then to realize that maybe other people have felt this way in the past but not said anything out of fear of feeling the bite of my response (or out of just not wanting to rock the boat).

              It’s terribly difficult, but one CAN learn to reframe and rephrase and still be to the point without being rude. I consider myself proof that you can (occasional slips aside).

          2. DMented Kitty

            Ditto. Scrolling through this long thread… I thought no one noticed and I thought maybe it’s just me… :<

        2. Zillah

          IMO, way too abrupt – that would definitely rub me the wrong way if I frequently received emails like that from a coworker.

          Tbh, I feel like Workfromhome is offering a false dichotomy. There’s a huge range between “Hey X, I need the XYZ report by Monday please” and three flowery paragraphs. For me, I’d respond much better to something like this:

          “Hey, X, I need the XYZ report by the end of the day Monday so I can move the ABC project along. Could you please send it to me then? Thanks!”

          It’s not significantly longer, but the tone is softer and more conversational.

        3. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes. I will also say, your comments on this post have sort of illustrated the problem! You are coming across as abrasive to me — overly brusque and not especially nice. That doesn’t mean that you as a person aren’t nice; it just means that your written communication isn’t conveying what you want it to convey, here or apparently at work! That is very fixable, and there are lots of suggestions here on how to do it. But you have to want to do it — what I’ve seen here is you arguing that you shouldn’t have to (such as saying that it’s not in your contract).

    2. Zillah

      I actually feel like this is really terse, and it would rub me the wrong way, particularly on a regular basis – and I’m not really a touchy-feely person.

      It’s worth remembering, I think, that people often won’t speak up when something does irk them or bother them, especially about something as minor as terse emails. We’ve seen people hesitant to speak up on matters of far greater importance in plenty of letters on here. I wouldn’t take “But most people don’t complain!” as a sign that you’re totally in the clear and it’s just those couple people who did complain.

      (Also, OP – again, I really have struggled with this a lot in the past, so I’m sympathetic and totally get where you’re coming from. A couple other thoughts: words like “actually,” “really,” and “totally” can help to soften your message a bit, so things come off less like a command. Ditto giving a short explanation – that helps people feel like you get where they’re coming from but have tangible reasons why you can’t budge. E.g., in response to:

      “Hey, OP! I’m not sure I’ll have time to get that report of chocolate teaspouts to you before Tuesday, if that’s okay.”

      You could say,

      “Sorry, I need it by Monday afternoon.”

      or you could say,

      “Sorry, I really need it by Monday afternoon so I can finish up the grant application for spout research by Wednesday.”

      Most people, I think, will prefer the second one.

  50. Biff

    Hmm, does anyone else find this part odd? “When I say this is obviously an ongoing problem and that we should formalize these issues through performance management, I am told there is no need.”

    To me, this sounds like Management is using this ‘problem’ somehow to their benefit. Especially as this employee is getting WEEKLY feedback on the issue. I do wonder if this is being used as a chronic reason to either not promote or give this employee a raise, and yet also get more/better work from the employee. I was at a company that used this kind of feedback for exactly this reason — they deliberately hired people that they knew would work under that kind of pressure and then they created a special working atmosphere to pump us as hard as they could.

    1. a

      I guess that’s possible, but it seems to me more like the manager just doesn’t want to write up the employee. It doesn’t really seem to me like the problem is made up; after all, the OP admits that they are “very to the point,” and the part about being very busy also makes me think OP probably is blunt to their coworkers.

  51. Vicki

    The problem here is that this is bad feedback.

    “Your communication is too abrupt, abrasive, or assertive and could be perceived this way by my colleagues.” is bad feedback. There is nothing here to work with.

    If the manager could say “Instead of saying “I need the X report by 5” try “Hey Jane, I need the X report by the end of the day for a project I’m working on. Could you send it to me by then? Thank you!”, that could help… or maybe not. It might help the manager, but not Jane. Jane might want “Is it possible for you to get me the report by 3pm?” We don’t know.

    Also, note that the “softer approach” will not go over well with people who expect you to talk to the point and not beat around the bush. Then we get the letter “My boss keeps telling me I’m too soft” or “my reports don’t do what I ask of them” (usually from a first-level manager) and Alison has to say “you need to have a calm, straightforward, kind but firm conversation…”

    But again, the problem here is that this is not good (i.e., actionable) feedback. Good feedback is “I see A and think you should try B.” not “Anonymous co-workers tell me they feel ABC”.

    1. Kara

      I’m not sure why people keep positioning this as a binary – either to the point or excessively wordy and beating around the bush. No one is saying to write 6 paragraphs asking about a spreadsheet by the end of the day.

      Adding a “please” and a “thank you” to a communication, or greeting someone by name with a time appropriate greeting (“Good morning, Jane,”) softens a “to the point” request with manners and courtesy, while not not making them dig for the take-away point.

    2. Observer

      Also, note that the “softer approach” will not go over well with people who expect you to talk to the point and not beat around the bush.

      By and large, that’s simply not the case. Even people who want straight talk generally prefer a softer approach, and the few that don’t do not MIND it. What they dislike is lots of extra fluff, lack of clarity or language that obscures the message. A softer approach does not require ANY of those.

      Then we get the letter “My boss keeps telling me I’m too soft” or “my reports don’t do what I ask of them” (usually from a first-level manager) and Alison has to say “you need to have a calm, straightforward, kind but firm conversation…”

      Correct. Note, however, that she does not tell them that they need to be abrupt, brusque or abrasive. And, in fact, if you look at the scripts she provides, they are almost universally of the softer genre, while being very clear and to the point.

      1. Zillah

        Yes – you can be softer but still to the point! In one of today’s short answer questions, for example, she suggests this approach to a tenant who’s been taking office supplies:

        “Bob, I let a delivery person into your office the other day and saw that you had several items that have been missing from my desk, like my stapler and coffee mug, as well as the hole punch from the copy room. Can you please return those today? We do provide supplies in the copy room, but they’re for many people’s use and need to remain there.”

        That’s to the point, and there’s no ambiguity, but it’s also not abrupt.

    3. Observer

      Also, note that the “softer approach” will not go over well with people who expect you to talk to the point and not beat around the bush.
      By and large, this does not reflect reality. In fact, it’s so much at odds with my experience, that when I hear it, I tend to wonder if it’s being said as an excuse for rudeness. After all, as Kara (and many of the others on the discussion) noted, it’s perfectly possible to take a softer approach without the lack of clarity. So why bring up something that is essentially a red herring?

      and Alison has to say “you need to have a calm, straightforward, kind but firm conversation…”
      Exactly – KIND is a necessary part of the picture. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Alison advise curt, abrasive, or even abrupt language. And, the scripts she provides tend to be models of an approach that is clear, to the point and “soft”, even when being firm.

  52. Vicki

    Letters like this one remind me so much of every anonymous vague “complaint” and poor manager I’ve ever had.

    The OP needs to talk, honestly, with the people who have complained. No manager-in-the-middle with vague “feedback” .

  53. Ultraviolet

    As so many others have said, this is really feedback on a work skill and not a character flaw. I definitely understand why it feels personal–after all, your communication style must say something about you, right? But it doesn’t say that you’re a horrible person, or a good one. It’s value-neutral, but it’s helpful in some contexts and not others.

    You say you feel singled out, and I’m not sure in what way you meant that. But it’s really, really unlikely that you’re the only employee there getting feedback that’s hard to hear. And you’re far from the first person ever to get it.

    I wanted to add a bit about adopting a less “abrupt, abrasive, or assertive” communication style. A lot of people interpret this to mean being more personal and touchy-feely, but I don’t think this is necessary most of the time. I’ve observed a lot of coworkers whose abrupt style rubbed others the wrong way, and I think the crux of the issue was that other people felt disrespected. A lot of the so-called fluff you’re advised to add to emails and conversations is actually about requesting (rather than demanding) other people’s time.

    For example, if you walk up to Jane and launch into a technical discussion, she doesn’t have time to refocus her thoughts from her work to your needs. But if you walk up and say “Hi Jane, can we talk about the chocolate teapots?” then she does have time to refocus. Not giving her that time can make her feel like you have no respect for what she’s working on. It can also make her feel like you’re acting like her boss when you’re actually equals.

    Similarly, if you’re writing an email to Jane because you need her teapot report for your work, an email that says “Send me the teapot report by 5pm” can make it sound like you think you’re her superior. But “Can you send me the teapot report by 5pm so I can finish my chocolate tea service presentation?” probably won’t. It’s a request, not an order (even though it’s a request she’s really unlikely to say no to) and giving her context for the request keeps her in the loop for where her work is going, which most people appreciate.

    When giving criticism, it often helps to say “Have you considered problem X?” or even just “What about X?” rather than “Your plan won’t work because of X.” Asking rather than telling reduces the risk that you’ll sound dismissive, or sound like you’re a boss disapproving their report’s ideas. (It also makes it a little easier for the person to deflect your criticism, which is not always good, but if they do you can pursue the idea further.)

    You can also proactively show respect for people without getting too personal. A really good way is to ask them what they think about something–a recent company announcement or some software tool or some bit of industry news.

    Some people will still find you too impersonal if you don’t also ask about their personal lives and smile a lot and add emoticons and exclamation points all around. But if you can conceptualize a communication style that conveys respect, I think you’ll get along with most people and take care of your current workplace problem.

  54. Vicki

    OP – you may feel better knowing that approximately 50% of the general population “tells it like it is” and tends to be specific to the point of bluntness. Unfortunately, you’re rubbing up against some of the 12% of the population that views this form of communication in a bad light.

    And no, I’m not exaggerating or making up the % numbers. :-(

    1. puddin

      Oh oh, can you please list the reference? I am researching some ideas on this topic!

      TY!

    2. Katie the Fed

      I don’t understand why we continually equate “telling it like it is” with abrasiveness. OP’s boss is telling her she’s being abrasive and rude. You can be direct without being rude. I mean, seriously, it’s not hard. Like many people have explained, it’s the difference between “Can you please get me that report on Wednesday? thanks!” and “Send me the report on Wednesday.” Same level of effort, same message, VERY different delivery.

    3. fposte

      Is this maybe some study about time-wasting communication vs. effective information, where most people would skew toward the latter? Because the numbers don’t make sense to me when it comes to specific to the point of bluntness–I’ve worked with a lot of people, and it’s pretty rare for me to encounter somebody who’s blunt to the point of rudeness. It’d be a pretty weird coincidence if both my workplace and the OP’s office were filled with the 12%.

    4. Zillah

      I… just don’t buy this – can I see a source?

      It’s also worth pointing out that even when people communicate in this way, they don’t necessarily like being spoken to in this way. In fact, they often don’t.

  55. qkate

    OP, I would ask around for other coworker’s perceptions of your communication style before you change anything. It may be that you do need to change some things, but it also might be that you’re being inaccurately perceived due to unconscious gender bias.

    I’m disappointed AAM didn’t point out the need to verify this perception/feedback first. Unconscious gender bias is still pretty rampant, and career-limiting for a lot of women:

    http://fortune.com/2014/08/26/performance-review-gender-bias/

    If you ask around and you continue to get the same answer from other co-workers, then by all means follow the advice here. But I would do some due diligence first.

    1. fposte

      If I found out that my employee had been asking all her co-workers if they agreed with me on what I told her to do, I’d be pretty displeased. I wouldn’t suggest it, and I wouldn’t categorize it as a need.

      1. qkate

        I wouldn’t be bothered if I found out an employee wanted to get a second opinion on something like this. In fact, I would encourage it. (Granted, I probably would’ve checked my perception with others before even delivering the feedback in the first place, but depending on the OP’s relationship with her manager she may/may not be able to trust her manager has that self-awareness.)

        I can understand why you/others might feel differently, though.

    2. Zillah

      Along with what fposte said (which I totally agree with), I’m pretty sure we’ve discussed that exactly article on here recently, and I know that we’ve frequently discussed the gender bias behind certain words and interpretations of people’s actions.

      But there are a couple things at work here.

      1) The OP explicitly admits that she’s blunt and straightforward in her communication style.

      2) Even if there is a gender bias at work here, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the OP won’t benefit from altering her communication to be a little softer. Bias sucks, but we don’t live in a perfect world, and it’s not generally going to help people to behave as though we do. Some things you push back on. Some you don’t.

      1. qkate

        This is all fine, but saying “yes, go totally change who you are immediately!” in a vacuum without considering the larger contexts that may be at play might not be beneficial. It’s important to understand why you are making the choice you are making. I think decisions of “I acknowledge there may/may not be bias and would like to change anyway” or “I acknowledge there may/may not be bias and think I would prefer finding a more compatible work environment” are both valid. I’m only arguing the OP should make that decision with open eyes. But, this is just one person’s opinion!

        1. Zillah

          But nobody’s telling the OP to change who she is, which is a much bigger ask – just to alter her written communication a little.

  56. Observer

    Agree with fpost. The fact is that the OP’s manager is displeased with an aspect of her performance. That needs to be addressed regardless of anything else.

  57. Observer

    I don’t want to rehash what everyone else has said. I’d just like to highlight something. You claim that you write to others the way you do because you are busy. I suppose it’s possible that you are the only busy person in your office. But, I can tell you with total certainty that there are many, many very busy people in this world, and those that I know are quite capable of writing emails that would not be considered abrasive, rude etc. The issue is not time, but your willingness to do it.

    Also, it’s really odd to me that you equate not getting a PIP as proof that this is not a performance issue, but just your boss trying to tell you how horrible you are. There are plenty of performance issues that smart bosses don’t manage with PIPs unless they have to. But, by framing it this way and by challenging your boss to “prove” it’s a problem by putting you on a PIP, you are putting yourself in a bad position. Bosses don’t like being challenged, and one might come to the conclusion that if it comes to another disagreement, you will just go your own way unless someone sits on your head. That is most definitely not good for your career.

  58. Not So NewReader

    OP, fwiw, I don’t think you have been singled out. The number one reason for that is because you don’t know what other people have been told they have to work on. And you may not ever find out.

    Another thought: People don’t give feedback that is difficult to listen to, if they do not perceive the person as worth the effort. You have plenty going on that is right.

    My best suggestion is just add to your mix that you realize the person you are talking to is busy. No one likes to feel that someone thinks they are more busy. Sometimes you can imply that you know they are busy such as: “I was wondering if you could add X to the ABC report, is that a big deal or is it simpler than I am thinking it is? And other times you can say it directly, “I really could use X added to ABC, would you have time today or are you really busy?” Recognizing that others feel busy or overwhelmed can go a long way. And you do not have to do this all the time, just every so often.

  59. Willis

    If the true motivation behind your direct email correspondence is saving time, it sounds like at this point throwing in some “please” and “thank yous” would take a lot less time out of your day than weekly talks with your manager about your abruptness. Not to mention save you the anguish of going home in tears or having a panic attack. And I’d imagine that as you get accustomed to softening your emails a bit, you’d hardly even notice the extra time. Your manager’s feedback is just about altering your communication style at work, not an indictment of your personality :)

  60. Patty

    It’s a gift when someone gives you constructive criticism, take it as a sign that your manager wants you to get along in the office.

    1. Goldenlicious Potatoe Skins

      This wasn’t constructive though, it was personality based.

      Constructive criticism would have provided specific examples and ways to improve. It would also be manageable, and adjusted if the feedback wasn’t working.

  61. Sonya

    Ness, I’m an Aussie too. I work in a call centre in Melbourne. It’s a pretty lowly job, but one thing I know is that I can write a decent, soft email. Being in the lowly position I am, I need to ask for things nicely or my requests will be ignored.

    Things I have found can help:
    “Hi Manglement: Hoping you are well. Could we possibly schedule a time to catch up this week for [reasons]? [snip] Please let me know if there is anything else you might need from me/need me to do/need me to bring along. Kind regards, Your Serf.”
    “Hi Coworker: Whenever is convenient for you, could we please catch up re: project?”
    “Hi Bossman: Hope you had a great weekend! I would really appreciate it if we could please catch up to discuss [issue] sometime this week. Please let me know when suits you and we can work it out.”
    “Hi Colleague: Just wanted you to know that [snip]. Please let me know if there is anything you need from me.”

    Maybe I’ve softened my messages too much because I don’t have the power you do, but you catch more flies with honey, not vinegar.

    If you know someone’s interests, work them into the hallway chats you have with them. “I really thought the Demons were making it back, but that loss to Sydney last weekend was a shocker!”, “Did you catch MasterChef last night? Matt Preston’s cravats are getting even more out there, eh?”, “Did you catch the finale of The Block? Now we’ve got bloody Reno Rumble and House Rules. It doesn’t end!” You don’t need to go deep and meaningful, but you really might consider looking for common ground.

  62. Sonya

    Further to my previous comment. I’m also going to tell you what it’s like being managed by someone abrupt, and how far it really gets you in the long run. I’m going to be pretty blunt. I understand you respond to that. Oh, wait, no, you don’t. You haven’t liked anyone being blunt with you in this entire discussion. But I digress!

    As the lowest of the low, your ilk really rankle me when you “tell me what I’m going to do”. Let’s get this straight, boss: I’ve got a bunch of other things I could be doing, and your request just tumbled right to the bottom of my priority pile.

    But, if you ask me “if I could please [task]” and invite me to “let [you] know if you need anything from me”, you’re back on top. You can push the boat out further by saying something warm n’ fuzzy like “I really appreciated your work on [earlier task] . It really impressed [client]. Going forward, could we expand on that work by doing [additional task].

    I do not follow orders. I am not a machine. I also don’t like helping people who don’t show their appreciation with looking good to management. Oh, sure, we can argue that you shouldn’t have to ask me to do my job, or that my job is to make you look good to your management. But “please” and “thank you” go so much further.

    Fixing the problem means nothing if you managed to piss off everyone who helped you do it. That’s one crisis solved, but we will all make your life a lot harder during the next one, because we know you don’t give a damn about us or notice that we, too, are people. We don’t go out of our way to help people we don’t like. We especially don’t like helping people we don’t respect.

    I’ve gotta say, OP, that in reading your initial letter and your subsequent comments, I neither like nor respect you, and I will do everything I can to stymie you and stonewall you. Treat me like that, and I’m taking you the long way round. Capisce? You will get the most malicious, passive-aggressive, work-to-rule compliance I can muster. If I know something that might help you, I ain’t gonna speak up. I will work against you for as long as I can with a pleasant smile on my face and ice in my veins.

    That’s what it’s like to be managed by unappreciative, abrupt people. And that’s how I, as your subordinate, would treat you. Sorry if that seems harsh, but it’s the truth of how I would respond as your employee.

    1. Goldenlicious Potatoe Skins

      You are so passive-aggresive! Yeesh. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

      Some people come across abruptly despite there best efforts. For some, soft and warm is natural, but for other’s its a learned behavior and takes time. That doesn’t mean that those of use who struggle with this deserve sabotage, stonewalling, and malice.

      1. Ness

        Hmmm – will I still be considered defensive if I take Sonya comment a bit personally? :)

        1. Snoskred

          How about you take a moment to consider how Sonyas blunt and to the point comment made you feel?

          Did her comment make your heart beat a little faster? Did it maybe make you feel a little nauseous? Did you have butterflies in your stomach? Did it send your mind off in a spiral of panic? Did you think.. what will people think of me now, after seeing this being written to me? Did it hurt your feelings, maybe dent your pride?

          Now, stop to consider that with every email you send out, you might be making the receiver of your blunt and to the point email feel that way?

          Was it a pleasant experience for you? I’m guessing it wasn’t, given it made you feel defensive and that your comment here suggest that her comment felt like a personal attack towards you.

          If you can do that, and still say that being blunt and to the point is a perfectly fine way to treat people.. then we’ve all been wasting our time writing comments to you, and I would have to put both my hands in the air and officially give up. :)

          (please, deities, let this be the lightbulb moment!)

          1. Sonya

            Thank you, Snoskred – that’s exactly where I was going with my more aggressive comment above.

            Ness, you may also notice I commented above this current comment with some ideas of how to soften things. The latter comment here was about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, which Snoskred definitely picked up on.

            To be clear, Ness, I don’t think you’re an awful person – you’ve written in for help with something that clearly bothers you to hear, and I wanted to show you what brusqueness feels like from the other side. Perhaps I went about it in the wrong way. I apologise wholeheartedly if I have hurt you, it was not my intention.

            1. Snoskred

              And it isn’t the intention of Ness to hurt anyone by her emails, but even so her little short, abrupt and to the point emails are like little email bombs being sent to people which may or may not upset them as a surprise to themselves.

              I really hope Ness does finally understand where everyone who has posted here is coming from on this. Sadly I have a feeling (I’d love to be wrong on this) that she won’t be back here in the comments section. I think our truth bombs have been too hurtful. Which is somewhat ironic. :(

  63. Goldenlicious Potatoe Skins

    I’ve been in your shoes, and when writing more sofetly is not natural, it does take a lot of time at first.

    My advice is to make your one improvement plan. Write down the top three pieces of feedback you are hearing, and then write down 2 to 3 ways you are going to address these concerns. Send it to your manager and ask that she get back to you with any adjustments, and then ask to meet regularly to discuss your progress.

  64. Jill 2

    I’m late to this, but this conversation is so interesting to me. Most people here seem to be direct and blunt, and proud of it. I find that kind of behavior incredibly off-putting, but it’s clear from these boards all of you are successful. I would say I have the opposite problem — I have the pleasantry thing down, but can’t be direct with someone because it just isn’t in my nature. I have a need to always soften what I say.

    Interestingly, I’ve been praised for my diplomacy in the workplace since I was 22. This might help explain why I’ve done very well and have been promoted several times, even though I look at my skills and think a child could probably do what I do. I mean, I know I have some skills, but the fact that people like working with me is huge. However, I think this only takes you to a certain level. I think at a leadership level, you have to be forceful and authoritative in a way I do not have in my arsenal. Maybe not everywhere, but certainly everywhere I’ve worked.

  65. ASKMENOT

    I am female and can sometimes come across as too direct. I work in a predominately male environment and was chastised for my directness coming across as rude. In that particular case, I do think it was gender bias. However, when I was a college instructor, I had to make a deliberate effort to soften my feedback. I recommend learning a little bit about the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. Particular the T/F dichotomy.

    From a supervisory standpoint, I once worked for a non-profit where my boss was the head of the board of directors (Which was voluntary and he obviously had a business to run outside of the non-profit.) We could go weeks without seeing each other but he would email me regularly. He would always sign off with “Thanks for everything you do.” It stood out to me in a positive way and I have never forgotten it. He was a busy man and I felt like that was his way of acknowledging that he knew he didn’t see everything I did but he knew I did it and if it was an email of instructions or tasks, then it ended the email on a soft note.

  66. Kira

    I just wanted to chime in because this post came up literally days after my boss had brought up communication style as a room for improvement for me. I’m happy I get the benefit of reading all the scenarios and input from everyone here.

    In my case, we really zoomed in on times when I make a request–asking for stats, or documents. Because of my role, I’m lower on the hierarchy than a lot of the people who I need information from, so some of the Directors are getting miffed when I remind them I reports A,B, and C this week.

    I don’t think I responded defensively to the feedback, and my boss basically said, “It’s not about you, it’s about how the individual you’re talking to perceives it and wants to be treated.” So, more respect and deference is on it’s way! But it’s hard to change my writing/talking style, so we’ll see how it goes in the next few months.

  67. S Trevino

    I received similar feedback today. I could use your help, please. Does anyone know of a “translator” to help with ideas how to soften a message? Is there an app for this? Where I can type in what I would typically write for a deliverable request and then it offers me the softer version of the same request? Sincere apologies if someone mentioned this is an earlier comment; I was not able to read them all, yet.

  68. joan

    our unit just had a feedback session and similar comments were directed to me; i personalised the comments but took a more mature approach after a good night’s sleep; previously, i also excused my abruptness as time related and that I may not see the person again. Your comments are excellent and I hope will serve to change my communication style. I also think it is a message to slow down.

  69. Manager of an "abrupt" employee

    I am the manager of an “abrupt” employee. I have been working with her on it, and she has been improving. However, her co-workers cannot get past the way she used to treat them, and still avoid working with her whenever possible. It’s almost like they are afraid of her. I have asked them to give her another chance but can’t explain the steps I’ve taken with her – it’s not their business. Do you have any advice?

  70. cheluzal

    I’m an abrupt talker/emailer.
    But it’s worse when you have an employee who simply cannot follow basic instructions, so yes–I will be more terse in my email when you ask me a question I just told you in a warm email 2 days prior. If you’re unprofessional as a habit and you call me out my not having tact, I can’t seem to weigh your opinion too heavily.

  71. Marie

    Where does one learn how to be a less abrupt communicator?
    Communication style is often not choice, but conditioning.
    Telling one to be less abrupt, doesn’t teach them how to do it. Often people don’t realize they’re being abrupt. They may even think they’re being tactful and honest…

  72. RBF 2.0

    Honestly I think people are way too sensitive in the workplace and just get offended over the littlest things

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