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Life 101: Are you a bulldozer or a sugarcoater?





Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Why is this so hard?

It may well depend on how you’re “wired.” Are you quick to speak what’s on your mind, bulldozing your way through conversations? Or, do you hold back, sugarcoating your comments?

Your style may have to do with early childhood conditioning, or learned behaviors over the years. And, in today’s era of political correctness, fewer folks are shooting from the hip.

Then there’s your tone of voice and all that nonverbal behavior. It’s a wonder we’re understood at all.

One person’s direct approach may sound abrupt to another. On the other hand, taking the time to carefully consider all options seems perfectly reasonable to one person, while excruciating to another.

If you’re not sure where you fall on the spectrum, here’s a clue. Has anyone ever asked you to elaborate, get to the point or “land the plane?”

Of course, the context of the conversation speaks volumes. You may be more direct with your family than in a business setting. Or, sensitivities within your family could cause you to shut down.

If you’re too direct in certain situations, you could end up sticking your foot in your mouth. On the flipside, if you’re not direct enough, you risk sending the wrong message.

Do you sometimes sugarcoat your communications? While these messages are rooted in good intentions, beating around the bush doesn’t serve any purpose.

“I call it ‘verbal dancing,’” said corporate trainer Cookie Tuminello. “We dance around the subject we most want to discuss—thinking the other person will pick up on our cues—and eventually we’ll get what we want. Heaven forbid we rock the status quo by actually saying what we really want to.”

Here’s a reality check. Are you placing too much emphasis on getting approval from others—which, by the way, may not even be rooted in reality?

Every time you dance around an issue, you diminish your capacity and self-worth. And you give away your power. Try being more direct, yet tactful, to be taken more seriously.

Here are two questions to ask yourself:

  1. What’s the price I pay for sugarcoating my conversations?
  2. Is that how I really want to spend my life?

Spinning your webs results in spinning your wheels and leads to emotional exhaustion.

Then again, there’s the bulldozer approach. We all know those people who can suck the air right out of a room.

Next time you’re in a group setting, notice the dynamics. We actually do this all the time on autopilot, taking in the words, tone and body language.

Men and women may well reach the same conclusions, although they often arrive at their decisions differently. With a caution flag raised toward stereotyping, the male brain typically gets there in a more linear fashion, while the female brain is more circuitous, taking in more stimuli. Hence, the ongoing challenge depicted by psychologist John Gray in his seminal book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.

None of this is good, bad, right or wrong. It’s just information to take into account whenever you feel misunderstood. Remember to keep it all in perspective. As Dr. Seuss reminds us:

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A., is a syndicated columnist, psychological counselor and founder of a multi-state marketing company. Reader comments are welcome at For more information on her books, go to

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