The power of being blunt

Michael Wu is the new EVP for Israel & Singapore Offshore R&D Division in a San Jose based software firm.

Avi is the Head of the Israel  R&D centre. Since Michael’s appointment, Avi has been in constant contact with Michael’s boss, with whom he studied at Stanford. Avi shows low responsiveness to Michael’s emails and when Michael gives marching orders, Avi argues.

Michael hired Naomi, a coach from Billings Oregon. Naomi flew to Israel 3 times, met with Avi and planned an intervention called “Mutual Adaptation in a Changing Environment” ;  Avi showed up for two meetings and then checked out.

Michael then hired a consultant who was brought up an educated in North America, but was also Israeli with a long military career. Michael had a one hour conversation, which was “ten times more expense than the hourly rate paid to Naomi” , yet proved very effective. One month later, Avi was fully aligned with and respected Michael; Mike said “we have come a long way”.

Here is an email Mike sent to the consultant,

Hi A—n,

It has been a month now since we spoke and you guided me how to deal with Avi.

I was very reticent about inviting him to fly in from Israel 17 hours on coach class  to San Jose for a half hour meeting with me. I was even more reticent about telling him that “if you mess with me one more time, you’re fucked; now my friend, let’s close this issue and move on-followed by lunch” during which I give him a major project! But it worked. We are well aligned. And as you mentioned with bluntness, he was neither offended nor intimidated. He no longer thought me to be weak.

Thank you so much.

Michael Wu

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7 thoughts on “The power of being blunt

  1. Not your average ‘OD’ type response. Again.
    This is a potential downside of operating from a purely principle-driven point of view: it can become a ‘position’, incapable of flexing when needed. OD has historically seen its roots in humanistic principles to the exclusion of more direct or even blunt-to-the-point-of-rudeness approaches as you demonstrate here.
    You know what a fan I am of Barry Johnson’s Polarity Thinking and this seems to me to be another perfect example of what happens when you have the courage to reach over into what we call your ‘Shadow’ to do something that works even though it feels ‘wrong’.

  2. Thank you for this. John, Being blunt can and cannot have roots in principled behavior that said. Sometimes clarity does what it is intended to do-it let’s everyone know where they stand. Allon, how does this apply across gender roles. I can relate anecdotely that “being blunt” often is a perceived negative if you are female.

    Best. Sylvia

  3. Bluntness, when viewed from John Don Scotus’ concept of haecceity, is the quality of attending to the thisness of the situation and the particulars of the individuals rather than enveloping one’s intervention in ideological principles. It allows to name what is in a way that it is heard from the specific « listening from » of the individuals rather than the « speaking to » of the coach. When expressed from love rather than arrogance, I call it a « loving confrontation » .

  4. Sound very much what I have done many years when I was working as regional VP for an Israelis company. But it works & because after that, they respected me , no longer pushing me around because they are Israelis! In fact, other Israelis that work in the region also took the que! Look like nothing much has change over the last 10 years!!!

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