Clear is Kind

By Darren Buford
[Editor's Note]

Have you heard the phrase “clear is kind”? It’s attributed to author Brené Brown, PhD, and her book Dare to Lead (Random House, 2018). (You may be familiar with Brown’s popular TED Talk on the power of vulnerability or any of her myriad books on leadership and communication.) “Clear is kind” refers to speaking honestly and directly. In other words, speaking your truth rather than beating around the bush.
Imagine a situation in which a supervisor needs to tell an employee about inappropriate conduct. An example might be, “Samantha, we need to chat about your tardiness to work. This is unacceptable. This is your second warning. If it occurs again, you will be terminated.”
The phrase can also be flipped (“unclear is unkind”). An example would be that same supervisor instead speaking indirectly to Samantha or, worse, to peers about Samantha’s tardiness, but doing nothing about it. The supervisor would continue to harbor resentment toward Samantha, who may never know she’s causing a problem.
“Clear is kind” resonates with me not only from a management (and human) perspective, but also when looking at the relationship between massage therapists and their clientele. Clients crossing boundaries and clear communication are this issue’s themes. Inside, you’ll find Ben Benjamin’s feature on the topic. In most every practitioner’s professional life, Benjamin suggests they will encounter a client who is either verbally or physically suggestive or abusive—crossing professional and ethical boundaries. Benjamin gives insight into the commonality of these occurrences and also strategies for handling them with deftness and grace, and, most importantly, keeping them from occurring in your workspace in the first place (hint: clear communication and by-the-book professionalism help).
Though I can’t speak from a practitioner’s perspective—as I’m not an MT—I can speak from a client’s perspective about when my boundaries have been crossed in the treatment room. It was the much-too-soft touch by a fresh-out-of-school therapist during a Swedish massage that was more suggestive than therapeutic. It was the unrequested abdominal massage by a practitioner who pulled down the table sheets, exposing my chest and stomach without so much as asking if I desired that work. It was the two different MTs who moved my underwear (Hey, I’m wearing a sign here that says off-limits!) without asking in order to get to those specific muscles they just had to get to. In each of these instances, I felt (at least) uncomfortable and (at most) a little violated.
Did I follow our title mantra here and speak my truth about my discomfort? Unfortunately, no. Instead, I left the session with awkwardness and a “did that just happen” mentality. It’s 100 percent probable that none of the practitioners I just mentioned had any ill intent or clue that they had made me uneasy. But if I had spoken up, I can hope that they would hear me and adjust their work as necessary.
We write often in these pages about the need for good communication skills between practitioner and client. If you ever experience a client saying that your touch is inappropriate or unwanted, stop, listen, and adjust. And on the flip side, if a client is suggestive, and god forbid abusive, stop, let the client know immediately about their poor behavior, and, if necessary, end the session and leave, finding a safe space. Clear is kind.