Why is it that people cannot say what they really mean?  Take, for example, the HR representative who says, “We’ll keep your resume on file,” when they don’t plan to consider you at all; or the reporter who responds to a pitch by saying, “thanks, I’ll keep it in mind,” when what she plans to do with the email is hit delete.  In this age of uncivil conversation, this may be one of the most uncivil conversations there is.

On the face of it, this kind of response looks quite polite. It’s designed not to offend.  But actually, this use of language shows a lack of respect because it is dishonest.   It sets a false expectation–maybe they will call me when another opening occurs or maybe this reporter will do a story down the road.

For the HR person, it might be better for them to thank the applicant for their interest in XYZ Company and then say that the experience level doesn’t match what they are looking for.  In the case of the reporter a simple, “Thanks but I’m not interested” is sufficient.  This kind of direct, yet friendly communication lets the other person know exactly where they stand so they can move onto to something else.

Being direct, however, doesn’t mean being nasty.  It is important to keep this kind of communication on a neutral plane, without judgment. Stay away from personal attacks and focus on the facts.  As long as it is not mean,  honest communication will be constructive and will help someone far more than sugar coating.  Being mean will cause the listener to become defensive or angry and not to hear the positive intent behind what you say.

I’ll never forget going in for a performance review in my first real job.  I was working as an executive assistant in an office.  I hated the work and it showed.  I was surly and had a really bad attitude.  My work was ok but my demeanor was not and my boss told me so, saying “If you can’t do what I ask on these tasks, why should I give you more responsibility in front of clients?”  And she was right.  I changed by attitude and was promoted six months later.  Moreover, that was a valuable lesson.

Honesty tempered with compassion is always the best policy.  What do you think?