1. Do you find it easy to talk about personal information with others?
2. Do you often disagree with others in a conversation?
3. Do you often try to persuade others in a conversation?
4. Do you expect others to understand your meaning even if you don’t say something directly?
5. Do you use the words “maybe” or “perhaps” often in your communication?
Do you focus more on what others don’t say, rather than on what they do say?
If you answered “yes” to the first 3 questions, then you are probably more of a direct communicator. If you answered “yes” to the last 3 questions, you are probably more of a an indirect communicator.
More on this in a second.
In Part 1 we talked about how hard multi-cultural communication can be and in Part 2 we talked about high/low context communication styles. Today we’re going to talk about direct and indirect communication.
What Does This Look Like?
People who are direct communicators like communication that is clear, direct, and precise. Think especially of Americans and Western Europeans. They are much more likely to “tell it like it is.”
People who are indirect communicators, tend to expect others to take their meaning from the context and also like to be more polite in communication.
Why Is This A Problem?
One problem when people from different styles communicate is that that meanings are misunderstood. The direct communicator will not understand the subtle meanings that the indirect communicator is trying to give.
Another big problem is that direct communicators feel like an indirect communicator is not effective and is evasive. They can distrust an indirect communicator because they feel like the other person is hiding something. They aren’t; they are just communicating in a different way. Meanwhile, the indirect communicator feels like the direct communicator is rude and pushy.
What Can We Do?
When we are leading a team of people with different communication styles, here are some things that will help us all communicate better.
1. Talk about it. Just knowing that these styles exist and are different will help everyone be more in tune to their own communication style and the styles of the other team members.
2. For the indirect communicators: aim for a more direct style. Even though it might feel awkward and rude to them, help them understand that the direct communicator cannot pick up on the subtle clues that seem obvious to the indirect communicator.
3. For the direct communicators: try to be more indirect and a “softer” communicator. Avoid directly disagreeing with co-workers, and voice disagreements in more subtle ways. Be less confrontational and use words like “maybe” and “perhaps” more often.
Questions for discussion: Think of a discussion you had today. Was it more direct or more indirect? Do you think you can change your communication style? Please post your thoughts.