How to Live and Lead With Compassionate Directness
There’s a scene in Beyonce’s Homecoming when she’s prepping for her big Coachella show, sitting with her crew in one of the many soundstages they used for rehearsals. Things… aren’t going as well as she hoped.
After a rehearsal run through, she gives feedback to her team of 50+ people, explaining how the recording of the performance isn’t conveying its full magic.
I’ll share her feedback in its entirety—because it’s that good:
“Until I see some of my notes applied, it doesn’t make sense for me to make more. Just standing up there and seeing all the beauty up there and feeling it—it’s the only way I can articulate why I’m frustrated because it’s not translating on camera. So my goal is simply that. It’s just so everyone out there can feel what we feel. Whatever it is, let us know what we can prioritize to try and facilitate everybody’s needs...That’s where I am—we’re halfway there, we just got to make progress faster because we’re running out of time. Thank you everybody.”
The moment is a master class in “compassionate directness”—a type of communication that blends being honest and frank with coming from a place of understanding and support.
“Compassionate directness” might sound like an oxymoron, but being direct can be a form of compassion. Think about the last time someone delivered bad news or feedback to you: Would you have appreciated it more or less if they just cut to the point?
Studies show probably the latter. When giving bad news or negative feedback, most people appreciate the capital-d Direct approach to these interactions rather than "long preambles intended to buffer the impact."
And Beyoncé nails it—she dives straight into what’s not going right, why it matters to her and the entire team, and offers up her support to help the crew get there. She’s direct, but she’s compassionate.
It takes practice to communicate with compassionate directness—a skill I’m sure Beyoncé honed throughout her years as a director, producer, boss of all things. But having it as your go-to communication method is invaluable, whether you’re using it in the workplace, or at home with friends, your partner, or your family.
Life calls for tough conversations and feedback, and compassionate directness is your framework for making it feel less scary and more helpful.
Here's how to employ compassionate directness in your own life:
Think About What You’re Going to Say
It's easy to want to rip off the Band-Aid and jump straight in: So, we need to talk… But do you know what's going to drop out of your mouth next? If you don't plan, you're more likely to start and stumble on your words.
So, before your talk, consider what you want to say—and find your objective.
Are you giving constructive feedback? Are you hoping the other person is going to make some sort of change? It's important to know your agenda.
Write out a script or a few points that you want to hit, so you can easily remember them when you start the conversation.
Kick Off the Talk With a Very Brief Intro
And by "very brief," I mean, one sentence—maybe two. Ever been called into an impromptu work meeting but not know why...and the person who called the meeting jumpstarts it by talking about her commute, how her week's going, and soon five minutes pass and you're still sweating in your chair thinking, "Great, but why am I here?!"
The kinder—and more compassionate—action is to quickly state the purpose of the meeting or conversation.I wanted to talk about your recent job performance. I feel like we need to talk about our relationship.
Or be even more direct, if you can stomach it: I have some bad news.
Being this cut-and-dry can feel strange at first, especially for many women, who are conditioned to always "play nice" in a culture that rarely rewards bluntness. Yet remember: This approach is better for everyone.
Now, Hit All Your Points
Think back to your cue card. State your issues as succinctly and directly as possible:I noticed you've seemed distracted at work lately, and feel like it's been affecting the work you're doing. Our relationship has become too difficult. We fight all the time. I think we should break up.
The point is to say your big points ASAP, because then you'll both be on the same page as quickly as possible, and the conversation can progress from there.
Starting the conversation any other way is like walking to the edge of a diving board and hanging out for 10 minutes. You're mindfully giving yourself the opportunity to freak out—in fact, you're practically forcing it on yourself—instead of just jumping. The dive is long and the water is cold either way, so you might as well face it fast.
Show Up With Solutions
Being direct is one skill, but providing answers to some of the problems you're illuminating is a step up to the next level.
There are always going to be those conversations that can't be neatly tied up in a bow, but coming with some extra thought into how these problems can be remedied allows the other person to feel like they're not being "chewed out."I'd like to have weekly check-ins so I can get a better sense of how you’re handling your work. I'm planning to move out. You can have the apartment, but I'd like to discuss keeping the cat.
You might not get everything you want, but bringing solutions shows you've thought this through and have some answers.
Ask For Feedback
Here's where even more compassion comes into play. It's important to clearly articulate to the other person that they have the chance to respond. This is a two-way street. After you hit your points, open up the conversation and allow them to talk about their own issues with something like this:How can I help you in the future? Do you have any questions or concerns?
As with most new things, practice makes perfect—the more you try to use compassionate directness in your everyday life, the more naturally it will come to you.
And who knows? You might even inspire others to use it in their own lives. Now go make Beyoncé proud.
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