Baby Bear Communication: How to deliver a message that’s just right

By Marianne Renner: Leadership Coach, Speaker, Author

Remember the children’s story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears? A young girl wanders through the forest and stumbles onto the home of three bears.

She tries to take a nap in papa bear’s bed, but it’s too hard.

Next, she tries mama bear’s bed, but it’s too soft.

Finally, she settles into baby bear’s bed, and it’s just right.

I’ve worked with hundreds of leaders who share a common struggle. Their communication lacks the baby bear approach.

They come on too hard, or they come on too soft. Either approach ends the same way. They deliver a message in a manner that inadvertently erodes trust, elevates confusion, or negatively impacts engagement.

The best leaders know how to use baby bear communication. They use the right combination of being direct and earning respect.

Direct with Respect

Baby bear communication means using what I call the “direct with respect” approach.

Direct. The first part of baby bear communication requires being direct. Say what you mean. Don’t beat around the bush. Get right to the point.

Respect. The second part of baby bear communication requires using language that maintains mutual respect between two parties.

Leaders who use to the papa bear approach have no problem speaking directly. They’re comfortable saying what’s on their mind. However, if they’re not paying attention, they can deliver messages too quickly without considering words that maintain respect.

This can erode trust, which is a cornerstone of being an influential leader.

Those who use the mama bear approach are at the other end of the spectrum. They’re often uncomfortable with directly saying what needs to be said, especially if it’s a difficult message. They may dance around the topic, use long sentences, or sandwich their core idea between compliments.

This leaves the other party confused and can result in disappointment when unclear expectations are unmet.

Here are 3 tips to help you hone your skill at using baby bear communication.

  1. Get to the point right away. Don’t beat around the bush if you have an important message. You may think that you are “softening the blow” if you’re delivering a message that could be tough to hear. Most of us prefer being on the receiving end of a direct approach. You’ll earn greater respect by getting to the point immediately.
  2. Avoid demanding words. Phrases like, “you should,” or “you need to…” come across as demanding. Words like “should” and “need” can trigger negative reactions that bring resistance. Instead, use phrases like, “could you,” or “how would it be if you were to….” This slight shift in language can inspire your audience and move them from resistance to action.
  3. Use Active listening. When delivering a critical message, listening is as important as speaking. If you want to be a baby bear communicator, practice the skill of active listening. This requires paying attention with the primary goal of fully understanding the other person. Ask the other person for feedback about your message. This will ensure clarity for both parties. It also earns trust and respect by sending the message that their voice matters.
    Leaders who communicate using the baby bear approach are more likely to earn respect, build trust, and gain greater influence with their teams and other important stakeholders.

Use these tips in your next conversation, and just like Goldilocks, your outcome will be just right!


Here’s another tool to help you grow your impact as a communicator. Download the DISC behavior style cheat sheet to help you understand your teams.

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