How to Improve Your Communication Skills
by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.
The “In-Your-Face” Communication Style
“In-your-face” definition: It’s a way of talking, writing, and advertising that’s bold, defiant, and blatantly aggressive. It is confrontational and may include overt threats. It has come to be thought of as synonymous with New Yorkers. Some New Yorkers brag about it and regard assertive communication as a badge of honor.
Q. Is in-your-face an effective communication technique?
A. It depends on geographical location and occupation. Most Americans, with some exceptions, regard it as obnoxious.
Geographical location. (This information is especially important if you’re from abroad and are learning how to talk to Americans.) Tough talk certainly is acceptable in New York City, which prides itself for rapid action (“a New York minute”) and blunt talk. In some circles you may be regarded as a wimp and not taken seriously if you aren’t aggressive. But even in the city, the preferred initial communication style is plain talk that’s polite.
Elsewhere, you must be careful. In the traditional South, for example, tough, aggressive, discourteous talk can lead to nasty confrontations. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be assertive in the South. Southerners certainly know how to make their wishes known, but they admire the person who can do it with charm and diplomacy.
Occupation. If you’re a coach, in-your-face communication is accepted and sometimes demanded. Watch any team sport and you will see a coach haranguing a team. A coach may appear mild mannered and in-control, but coaches must be able to do an in-your-face speech to fire up the team. American fans not only accept it, they demand it if the team isn’t giving an all-out effort. It’s a coaching style that’s certainly not limited to New York. Bobby Knight–the basketball coaching legend who holds the current record of 902 wins—was an in-your-face coach his entire career. (Knight was men’s head basketball coach at West Point, Indiana University, and Texas Tech.)
American military officers, like athletic coaches, must be able to deliver in-your-face speeches effectively. Drill sergeants are notorious for their verbal tirades.
Workplace communication. If you own the company, you just might get away with in-your-face communication, but you probably won’t in large corporations or government agencies. Most large organizations have complaint procedures for employees who feel verbally abused or threatened. We know of one instance in which a manager employed by a government agency talked tough to an errant subordinate. That person was actually guilty of an infraction, but she filed a complaint, and got off without a scratch; her supervisor was demoted.
If you resort to tough talk, stay in control of your emotions. Watch your language. Absolutely no ethnic epithets and no threats. Both can come back to visit you in court. There may be situations when you need to show how angry you are—Presidents Washington and Eisenhower occasionally put their volcanic tempers on display. This can be effective because people know that you are serious, and the message usually is easy to understand. But we recommend that this communication style—like nitroglycerin–should carry a warning label: Danger. Handle With Care.