Sherri Y. Geng

Sherri Y. Geng

An analyst at Audax Group, an investment firm in Boston, and a former 2005 Intel Science Talent Search finalist.


Observe and adapt

Q: Are successful people blunt by nature? In recent weeks, retired NFL star John Riggins has been scathingly critical of his former team, the Washington Redskins. Is his take-no-prisoners rhetoric typical for achievers? Do the tactful accomplish more?

The assumption in some circles seems to be that the blunter you are known to be, the smarter or more impressive you become. By aggressively cutting to the chase, you distinguish yourself as a person who sees the bigger picture; who recognizes the need to spend his time focusing on the larger issues at stake rather than worrying about the collateral damage of a few choice words.

But the truly successful person is one who has enough courage to be blunt, enough discretion to be tactful, and enough foresight to recognize, in each instance, which approach will be more useful than the other.

There are certainly moments where being heard means being clear and candid. But to be blunt because you think the "bigger picture" disentitles those around you to their own respect is seen as nothing less than arrogance.

A person who always hands down edicts without regard to others' situations or feelings may even wind up sabotaging his or her own effectiveness -- for what he thinks is blunt efficiency becomes quickly misread as insensitive disrespect, and will engender neither respect nor good morale among those he works with. Two seconds of tact when engaging with others speaks volumes about a person's humility, and may often lead to unexpected success.

Similarly, those who are blunt because they think it confers upon them an importance or strength that they could not otherwise convey with their ideas alone are simply broadcasting their own insecurity: As Edith Wharton once wrote, "True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision."

It does not set apart a person to be ruder, brasher, or louder than others for the sake of distinction -- good ideas and the foresight to package them appropriately to their current audience will often speak louder than any gratuitous displays of inflated bluntness.

Self-awareness, in these cases, is key. For if the true challenge is to know when to use one approach over the other, then it is critical to have the perceptiveness to diagnose what your current situation is asking of you -- is it a board room that has no patience for minced words? A patient who refuses to be convinced that a certain approach is best? A community that requires a certain amount of cultural understanding to get on board with an outside project? Compassion and empathy will serve you better in these cases than any hard and fast rule to which others might subscribe.

As evolution has attested, the most successful people are those who adapt quickly to their environments, often by observation rather than action. Those who spend time mastering this skill -- which involves humility, respect, and no small amount of more listening than talking -- become the rightful achievers, for they've learned to speak to that very fundamental tenet of human nature: that at the end of the day, we respond best to those who understand us best, and it is only to them that we can lend our trust and support, and on them that we should bestow our greatest expectations.

By Sherri Y. Geng  |  November 16, 2009; 9:41 AM ET  | Category:  tactless or truth-tellers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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awsome answer, I could not agree more.

Posted by: jaxnc06 | November 18, 2009 7:07 AM
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