Cowardly vs. Courageous Communication

In today’s Seattle Times I read the advice columns "Miss Manners," by Judith Martin, and "Ask Amy," by Amy Dickinson. Their advice illustrates a topic I wrote about in this month’s Better Writing at Work: cowardly vs. courageous communication.

Responding to a supervisor who asked for advice on handling negative comments about her appearance, comments that come from older workers who report to her, Miss Manners recommended sending an office-wide memo stating that "professional conduct prohibits making personal comments about colleagues." She recommended that memo even though only two people of seven who report to the supervisor make the comments. Miss Manners suggested that once the memo went out, the supervisor could then "issue a gentle reminder about professional behavior" the next time someone criticized her appearance.

In "Ask Amy," the writer wanted advice on how to handle someone who talks too much–always about herself. Amy recommended using this direct approach: "Susan, sometimes I get frustrated trying to talk to you because I feel as if our conversations all go one way–you telling me your problems and me listening. Can we do things differently?"

To me, one approach is cowardly; the other, courageous. Which is which?

Reading the office-wide memo, the innocent will think the supervisor is wasting her time and theirs with her memo that states the obvious. The guilty are likely to titter about it. It will not succeed, and it’s cowardly.

The direct comment and question "Can we do things differently?" are wonderfully strong and clear. They open up a dialog about behavior and expectations.

Miss Manners is clever and always mannerly, but Amy’s approach would work better in the supervisor’s situation.

Do you agree?

Syntax Training


  1. I think you nailed it! I love your Courageous vs. Cowardly angle–it has really altered my thinking about business communication.

Comments are closed.