Speaking with kindness: 5 tips for effective communication

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Have you been in a situation where you needed to provide honest feedback but didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings?

Maybe a co-worker asked for your opinion on an unpolished project, or your partner shared an idea that you knew wouldn’t work. It’s moments like these that test our ability to communicate with kindness. We’ve all heard the saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” However, there’s more to speaking with kindness than just holding back negativity.

While Canadians are often praised for their tactful and polite nature, there are times when we need to be more direct in our communication.

Here are five practical tips to help you speak with kindness, even in challenging situations.

  1. Be kind, not just nice

    Being kind and being nice are often used interchangeably, but there’s a difference. Being nice involves being polite and conforming to social norms. On the other hand, kindness goes beyond politeness and centers on caring and consideration for others. When you aim to be kind, you shift your focus from the fear of not being liked (your reputation) to thinking about how the other person will benefit from an honest and open conversation. This shift in perspective can make a significant difference in your interactions.

  2. Embrace radical candor

    Bestselling author Kim Scott says radical candor is caring personally and challenging directly. It means offering honest feedback while showing genuine concern for the other person. Radical candor is the opposite of ruinous empathy. Ruinous empathy is when you avoid necessary confrontations to spare someone’s feelings. For example, instead of telling your co-worker about the areas where a project can improve, you tell them that their work is perfect. While this can boost your co-worker’s confidence, it also leaves them unprepared for challenges that may arise from the project’s shortcomings.

  3. When you aim to be kind, you shift your focus from the fear of not being liked (your reputation) to thinking about how the other person will benefit from an honest and open conversation.

  4. Respect is key

    Being radically candid does not give you a license to be mean. Respect the other person’s feelings by actively listening to their point of view. Take the time to understand their emotions and the context of their actions. By showing respect, you create a safe space for open communication and mutual understanding.

  5. Master the basics

    Mind your tone of voice, ensuring it remains calm and respectful. Speak clearly and directly, avoiding insults or name-calling, even in moments of anger. If you find yourself upset, take a step back, and collect your thoughts before addressing the situation.

    Effective communication involves more than just the words you say. Mind your body language. You should show that you are attentive and listening. Also pay attention to the timing and location of your conversations. Choose an appropriate setting where both of you can feel comfortable discussing the issue. Keep in mind that it’s best to “praise publicly, criticize privately.”

  6. Practice empathy

    One time, I couldn’t find my wallet as I was checking out at a grocery store. I was growing frantic, looking for it in my bag and pockets, noting that the check-out line was growing longer. After several minutes that seemed like an eternity, I finally found it tucked inside a secret pocket in my jacket. I shot an apologetic glance to the people behind me for holding up the line. The guy next to me in line approached and said, “That happens to me all the time!”

    What a kind thing to say, I thought. Instead of being irritated for making him wait, he offered grace to someone he didn’t even know. It made me reflect and think about my own capacity for empathy under similar circumstances.

    Everyone makes mistakes. Understanding this can help you approach conversations with empathy. Instead of admonishing or blaming, consider feelings and perspectives. This will help you navigate difficult conversations with understanding and kindness.

Incorporating these tips into your communication style will not only improve your work interactions but also enhance your personal relationships. By speaking with kindness, you can create a positive and supportive environment where honest communication thrives.
 
Sources: How to lead with radical candor, Kim Scott, TEDx Talks; and How to be tactful, Mind Tools. Accessed October 31, 2023.

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Community Resources

Want to learn more ways you can speak with kindness? Read Disagreeing agreeably: An essential skill in the Canadian workplace.

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