ASK HR: What should I do not to sound arrogant for being plain-spoken?

Thursday July 19 2018

I am plain-spoken but I hold back as I do want to come off the wrong way. PHOTO | FILE


Q. I am rather plain-spoken. My intention is never to offend or rub people the wrong way but once in a while, some people walk up to me to say that I was rather arrogant.

The result is that when I am dealing with seniors, especially my boss, I hold back what I think because I am too cautious, careful not to come off the wrong way.

What is the best way to navigate this because I also do not want to come across as dumb?


It is positive that you are aware you are plain-spoken and that this trait is sometimes perceived by others to be arrogance.

Although through plain-speaking your colleagues might easily understand your messages and require little guesswork to locate your mind, it is useful to remember that negative perceptions created by your speech can have more adverse implications for your career than the risk of appearing dumb. 


There are countless occasions where people with the noblest intentions offend others not with the substance of their message but more often by how it is delivered.

Although you mean well by being plain-spoken, work towards ensuring that the integrity of your intended messages survives your conversations.

A message you send can vary from the message that an individual receives as your intentions can easily be enslaved and discoloured by the manner in which you speak. It is not blunt plainness but mindful clarity that helps to convey your intended message. 

Arrogance may find expression in sentences or statements but more so in the tone of communication. How you speak might determine whether you are perceived as refreshingly forthright or repulsively arrogant.

The answer is therefore not in holding back from speaking to others but in paying more attention to how you communicate your message so that it is received as intended through approaching your conversations with a greater appreciation of the perceptions of others.

Seek feedback from trusted colleagues on how your speech comes across and deliberately make necessary changes, one of which might be minding your tone.

While you need not change your personality, you do not want your manner to impede your meaning.

Speech is, after all, merely a tool and if yours were a knife, you would do well to consider whether to employ it as a utensil or a weapon of self-immolation.