As a proud, but inveterate, INTJ — I have a philosophy of life that few people understand: “Be Blunt and Cruel, it Saves Time!” I never use that philosophy with others without permission. That philosophy is fully how I prefer to be treated, but few people are willing to abide the terms of what they perceive to be “rough language.”
Being “blunt and cruel” isn’t really about being blunt or cruel or mean or inconsiderate. It simply means to get to the point, don’t dilly-dally, and to speak the truth right from the start without any cushioning or support.
We are taught to preserve the feelings of others and that often leads to wiggle words that obfuscate real intention and meaning so one doesn’t appear overly aggressive or unkind. Transparency of intention is unwelcome by many people. I argue that wiggling with words is actually cruel and unusual punishment because you have to try to divine what a person is really saying because they won’t really say what they’re meaning.
My lovely wife has instructed me many times to “chat a bit” first on the phone or in email before getting to the point so both sides of the conversational dyad can “sync up” and share a common grounding. I always prefer to get straight to the point — “yes or no?” — and move on to the next thing. It actually took me many years to realize the general correction she was giving me was not really for other people, but for her. Now that I finally have that message in the marriage meme, I am always eager to start a conversation with how one is feeling or what one thinks about the weather.
With similarly minded INTJ friends like Nicola — there’s no weather or feelings dance — we just start right off with bluntness and cruelty, and we get a whole bunch more done throughout the day. I know Nicola won’t be insulted if I am direct with her and she knows the same thing about me. We get. We go. NEXT!
When I tell my book editors to be blunt and cruel because it saves times — they never go along with that request — I guess because that level of honesty is unbecoming to them, and they instead prefer to nibble around the edges of what they really want and I spend a lot of time trying to interpret what they really need.
I don’t mind editors re-writing or revising or changing my stuff to make it better. That’s their job. My job is to go along with the process and that’s why my personal philosophy actually fits the publishing business really well, even though few editors will admit that reality. Writing isn’t about the author. Writing is about making the writing better.
At my current and my most recent job, I have been reprimanded for being blunt and was directly told that it would be better to be extra gentle and waste time than to possibly upset or offend a client, unless they specifically told me otherwise — which they never did!
I know how you feel, Gordon! Dealing with students and administrators takes a lot of hem and haw. I’m lucky I often have a good people filter next to me named Janna who often vets what I’m about to write for “softness and ambiguity.” When I’m alone and on my own, I often think, “WWJD?” As in, “What Would Janna Do?” Then I imitate her style and I get by. SMILE!
I often get reprimanded by her with, “You can’t say THAT!” I then have to “soften it up” and “ease into it more.” More and more and more words working around and wiggling so as not to upset the recipient.
Your point about clients is good — that’s why when I call for tech support, I tell them to speak fast and bluntly and get to the point. I tell them, “You don’t care how I am or how my day is going, so let’s get going!” I hate it when they ask me about the weather or how I’m feeling when I have a problem I’m trying to solve. I usually end up replying with, “I’d feel better if we’d get to the point…”
Huge smile …… nice day here today whats the weather like there? Hows the wife?
Now to the point ………………… faffing around is a waste of time but you correctly say that both/all parties must be aware of the fast track no nonsense dynamic.
It is harder with clients who have preconceptions and expectations about how “you” personally work. As you know I used to work in counselling in what some people would call a “delicate” area. My matter of fact approach was appreciated by about 50% of my clients, the rest it made worse and it was like pulling teeth to get anything from them at all. In the end I introduced tactics to circumvent as much faffing around as possible. Questionaires, what to expect fact sheets, background information sheets and asking people their expectations before they ha even arrived. All of this of course cuts through the veneer of British Politeness and reserve and gets to the heart of the matter, and meant problems an issues they were paying me to sort out could actually get sorted out.
Today is lovely and warm, thanks! My, you are looking lovely! How is the weather in portugal? Did you enjoy your lunch? What are you weekend plans?
Yes, faffing — my new favorite word of the day! — is absolutely a waste of time, and that’s probably why I love living and working on the East Coast. NYC is especially blunt and cruel by default, and if you don’t like it, GET OUT! SMILE!
The West Coast is quite the opposite. They’re all about feeling good and looking good and playing by the social rules of never saying what you mean unless you’re under oath. Ha!
The Midwest, on the other hand, is all about repression and never meaning what you really think in any condition or circumstance.
The South is just wacky, where phrases like, “Well, bless your heart” are intended as a put-down as a peabrain! Nothing is as it sounds or seems. You have to know the social codes to decipher if you’re being insulted or not.
You plan to get clients to the point is a great help!
I love all the geographic differences – I will take note of them and bear them in mind in the future.
Once we had the plan it was a lot easier – but there were still some who had to be backed into a corner to get them to the point !
The USA has all sorts of social memes and rules and for INTJs, we have to be super careful to just not speak or interact or communicate until we see how these dances are done in public by others.
I always love a plan — with four options for each step in case something goes wrong! SMILE!
“Get to the point!” Oh, I heard that a lot in NYC after moving here from Nebraska — where you are encouraged to never have a point — and after being taken aback a bit, I was finally able to come into my own and breathe with like-minded folk… sometimes… a little too far…
The last two lines of this article ring so true to me. In some of my writing classes, my classmates are all so busy trying not to offend each other that their critique ends up weak and insincere. Despite their good intentions, this really hurts any chance at growth in the writing process… they’re so unused to criticism that they balk at suggestions rather than try to understand them.
You make an excellent point, Emily. The reason people don’t want to honestly criticize is because they’re fearful they’re going to get it all back two-fold and angrier and hotter. It’s the instructor’s job to make sure everyone feels safe to say what needs to be said, and evaluating genuinely helpful, good, feedback must be part of the final grade.
The key to artistic feedback is using non-coded language. Instead of saying, “I didn’t like it,” I encourage my students to say, “It was not effective, because…” then you’re helping solve a problem and “effective” isn’t a hot-button emotional word like “like.” Liking is lazy. Explaining why is much harder because you’re fixing an active problem in real time.
It also helps if the author under scrutiny says to everyone, “Be blunt and cruel, it saves time…” — because that gives permission for people to open up.
Thanks, I’ll have to pass that on to some of my writing groups in class. That’s a good way to skirt around anyone feeling attacked.
And yes! I always like to tell people that when I present my work! I tell them I won’t be offended if they have an issue (or multiple issues) with it, and I mean it!
Good luck with the process, Emily! Be sure to lets us all know how it turns for you!
I agree and disagree. I like people to be honest with me. When I create something or have an idea and present it to someone I want the truth then I can do with their critique what I want; make improvements, ignore their opinion or scrap the whole idea.
I think it is helpful to know the personality type of who you are dealing with. (In some cultures it is all about the touchy feeling conversations.) Some people like a friendly approach and others like a direct approach. The important thing is though to get to the truth of the matter and that can be done in a direct, diplomatic way I think.
But if you are the boss-man I guess you are free to say whatever you want however you want…SMILE
Right! You can’t be blunt and cruel with people who take that phrase as something damaging or emotional, but for those who’ve been faffed around in the past, they will genuinely enjoy the opportunity to just say what they want to be said without having to use the usual social filters.
Now, blunt and cruel isn’t about being hurtful or mean just because… but oftentimes people think something said is “cruel” when it is only honest. That’s why I use cruel because being “honest” doesn’t mean that any longer. “Be honest” is an invitation to be lied to whereas, “be cruel” — opens you up to taking it all from the other person without retribution.
Have to share a tale relating to this.
Several years ago, as I was walking to work, I watched in horror as a large ginger cat bounded out from a hedge and into a busy road where it came off second-best in ahead-to head confrontation with a car.
The driver stopped and placed the the motionless animal by the side of the road and my worst fears were confirmed as I arrived for a closer inspection of the unfortunate victim. My first impression was that it was probably the dearly loved pet belonging to my elderly Irish neighbours and inspection of it’s collar verified this.
I spent the whole day at work thinking about how I would break the news to my neighbours. They were in their 70’s and thought the world of the, now deceased, Thomas. I decided that I would try and break it to Len and leave him with the task of breaking it to his wife, Ruby, as gently and thoughtfully as he could.
When I arrived home, I saw Ruby in the garden and decided to keep a low profile until Len was available and alone. Half an hour later, my opportunity arrived. Ruby went inside to prepare dinner and Len was pottering around in the garden. I called him to the garden fence, put my hand on his shoulder and told him the bad news. I said that I didn’t want to tell Ruby because I know how upset she was likely to be and I was sure that he would be able to break the news to her in the kindest way.
He looked visibly upset and wiped his eye, before shouting loudly, in his broad Irish brogue, through the open kitchen door… “Ruby.. Thomas is dead!!!
Hi Pete! I have no idea why WP.com is not recognizing you as a previously approved commenter. Your username is mangled and your Avatar did not fire! How odd!
Excellent story! You told it so dearly and so well. That’s the kind of relationship I like: JUST SAY IT! No dithering. Dead is dead. Love is love. Get it and set it! SMILE!
Not sure what happened with the WP thing David. I will make sure any future posting is done via my facebook account.
Pleased you enjoyed the story.
Yikes! If that’s your WP.com account doing that login problem, you should report it here so it gets fixed:
Have you tried logging in to WP.com and changing your Gravatar or updating your profile? I’m wondering if a new, forced, “save” to the server would properly update everything for you?
Oh wow, I love that story about Thomas. Sometimes you just got to get to the point. Reminds me of how my daughter calls me a dream crusher sometimes. She wrote a fan letter to a famous person once and asked me if I think he got it. I said “probably not” she looked so stunned. “WHAT? I spent all that time writing to him?” That wasn’t the first or last time I had to just give her the facts about something in such a matter of fact way. So, she always calls me a dream crusher (jokingly I hope)
I always support my kids and never try to crush their dreams, but I have to give them reality too. Sure you can be a world class sponsored skater (or fill in the blank), But it will take a lot of work and dedication, and even then the chances are small, but there are other ways to work in that industry with other talents – a writer, photographer, organizer…. have to give them hope but also help them see the bigger picture too.
Now that’s interesting. Where’s the line between being a “truth teller” and a “dream crusher” as a parent? You don’t want to create an “ego without performance” child — we have plenty of those, thank you — but you also don’t want them to think it’s hopeless against the world… even though it often is…
How do you teach a child to repress overwhelming, horrible, things, so they can keep on living into the next day with hope still rising?
@David – Only 4 options ??? I always have a towel handy …………….. there is always going to be “emotional” blood on the walls – either that or hair dye …………. GRIN
Ha! If it’s my original plan, four options is plenty… SMILE! If it’s someone else’s plan, well, you’re right… Infinity…
Oh, the towel betrayal! I thought I was talking privately to a friend and I was finked out. I needed that towel for my own blood I spilled! I had to hide for about three days after that episode…
When my husband was on Active duty he was deployed to Iraq. He was in a very bad situation – not in a place where he had access to typical military facilities or support. True, war is dangerous, but his situation was, to get to the point, BAD. The kids used to worry about him all the time. How did I console them?
“Sometimes bad things happen. Dad is smart, he knows how to stay safe and he loves us. I hope and pray for his safe return, but we will be ok if something should happen. It will be hard and scary, but we will get through it together.” I kept the details too myself and tried to prepare for the worst case scenario, while still trying to keep them positive and hopeful.
But you are so right – it is tricky to find the balance. I used to critique my kids writing – point out their grammar errors (as best I could with my own limitations), spelling errors, try to get them to think of ways to make their story better. This started in early elementary school. I was told by a teacher not to do that because it would discourage them from writing!!!
My son always had terrible anxiety. If the wind blew too hard he would suspect a tornado was coming and if that happened the house would blow away or our shed might blow into the neighbors house and smash their windows, then we would have to pay for their windows to get fixed, then we wouldn’t be able to buy groceries. (this happened when he was about 6) I’m happy to report my kids are pretty well adjusted now, but I think it is because of our being honest and cruel. We must teach our kids that bad things happen, but we get through it. It isn’t realistic to make your kids think the world is a perfect place any more than it is realistic to teach them the world is a hopeless place full of only things to fear.
Oh wow – now talk about not getting to the point. I think you know what I am trying to articulate here.
Excellent examples and straight on point, thank you for sharing the hard details! When it comes to that sort of precipice living — will Dad live or die — being blunt about it is really the only fair way to treat the issue.
It just occurred to me: I think the difference between being honest and keeping hope alive is one is based on observable known fact and the other is based on the unknown.
Yes, that’s good and make sense. What can we examine and quantify and what do we just have to wonder about and place in a faithful context of belief?
When reading this, I was reminded of an incident from when I was roughly 6 years old. The family dog had recently died and we buried him in the backyard close to the clothesline. My Mum told me that he had “gone to heaven.” To this I simply said “No, Mum, he’s under the clothesline.”
I know I’ve softened a little since then, but I still find it a little hard to to talk properly to social kinds of people. My Mum, an ISFJ, has helped a lot in teaching me proper ways of talking in social situations. Still I can’t stand dishonesty, or hypocrisy. I’ve always believed its better to “say what you mean, and mean what you say” regardless of the topic or recipient because I know that’s what I prefer.
Thanks for sharing your experience! I like the way you were thinking as a six-year-old!