By Paola Pascual on May 19, 2022 4:23:52 PM
Have you ever been called "too direct"? Some people believe that 'getting to the point' and talking 'without filters' are the basis of a productive conversations. For others, this may come across as rude or abrasive.
In this article, we will look into what direct and indirect communication sound like, which style different cultures appreciate most, and how you can be a direct communicator without offending others. What about you –do you prefer indirect or direct communication at work? Tell us in this LinkedIn post.
What is Direct Communication?
Direct communication refers to a communication style where the message is conveyed in a clear and straightforward way. There are no double meanings or implicit information. What you say is exactly what you mean.
Language in direct communication
You'll hear direct communicators say things like, ‘time is money, get to the point", "you can cut out the fluff", or "please, cut to the chase". For them, honesty is the best policy.
In direct communication, you'll hear shorter sentences and what we call upgraders. These are words that make your statement stronger, such as absolutely, totally, extremely, incredibly, or 100%.
People from Israel 🇮🇱, Germany 🇩🇪, and the Netherlands 🇳🇱 tend to be much more direct than in other cultures. They are more assertive and not scared to say no. They think that direct communication is a good thing, as it shows honesty and respect for telling the truth. However, others may see it as harsh or rude. If you are too direct others may think you lack compassion and self-awareness.
What is Indirect Communication?
Indirect communication is the exact opposite. It’s about conveying the message not just by words, but by nonverbal cues, such as your tone of voice and pitch, pauses, eye movement, or body posture. Ideas are not clearly spelled out, but hinted at.
Language in indirect communication
Indirect communicators may say things like, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” and use longer sentences and hidden meanings. They often use what we call downgraders. These are words that soften your message, such as perhaps, maybe, possibly, slightly, kind of, sort of, think, minor, a little, or a bit. They also rather ask questions instead of giving directions (Wouldn’t you rather…?).
You'll hear that indirect communicators like to "beat around the bush" and "sugar-coat" things.
In Asia, especially in Eastern countries, people communicate indirectly. Japan 🇯🇵, Thailand 🇹🇭, and Indonesia 🇮🇩 are some of the most indirect cultures. The UK 🇬🇧 lies somewhere down the middle, but they’re more indirect than most European countries (if your British boss “suggests that you think about it”, you better do something about it right away).
This style of communication is considered more diplomatic and thought to prevent conflict. However, it may also lead to misunderstandings and indirect communicators may also be seen as weak and lacking confidence.
Direct VS Indirect Communication
Beng indirect means being diplomatic for some and unclear for others. Being direct means honesty for some and rudeness for others. So, which one is best? When is direct too direct? Well, the answer is –it depends.
Our culture sets a range of what is appropriate and what is not, and we, as individuals make a choice within that range. As Erin Meyer says in her book The Culture Map, “it’s not about culture OR personality, but of culture AND personality”. And I would add to that – AND context. AND company culture.
All in all, direct communication is easier to interpret because the speaker clearly states the message in a few simple words. It also reduces the risk of misunderstanding as the information is explicit. In multicultural teams where you work with non-native speakers, you want to get your point across honestly and efficiently without hurting your colleagues and customers.
Tips To Be Direct (But Not "Too Direct")
You can get the best of both worlds and exress your ideas in a straightforward yet not harsh way. The best advice you can get is to bring your authentic, normal self to work. But also remember that direct shouldn't mean rude. Let’s look at some specific tips that will help you communicate directly without offending anyone.
1. Build relationships
The more trust you build with colleagues and clients, the more space you have for unexplained bluntness.
2. Listen attenttively
Listen with earnest and eager attention. Explicitly acknowledge what other people are saying
3. Consider your audience
Do some research on the people you communicate with on a daily basis. Where are they from? How do they usually communicate? How do they prefer to receive feedback? That wll help you understand them better and adapt. It's not so much about adopting their communication style, but rather abut finding common ground. Somewhere in the middle.
4. Openly explain how you communicate
We can't assume that other people will understand what we mean. Neither can we assume that others will clearly see our intentions. A great way to collaborate with people from other cultures is to explain how you usually communicate up-front. ("I appreciate straightforward communication and often share my ideas in a direct way. It all comes from a place of honesty and respect, but please let me know if anything I say ever makes you feel uncomfortable.")
5. Watch you non-verbal communication
Adopt an open body posture, use a friendly tone (where sentences end in a rising intonation, for example), don't cross your arms, and don't roll your eyes. If you say a direct message but your non-verbal communication is friendly and helpful, you reduce the risk of coming off as abrassive or "too direct".
6. Succintly state your point
Bottom-lining is a skill that consists of saying, in as few words as possible, what your point is. Try to say it in one sentence and be specific and clear.
7. Focus on facts, not on the person
When you make a remark or share feedback, focus on actions, facts, and behaviors. Remove judgments and assumptions and add examples. Compare the two examples below.
- Too direct: You're so rude and harsh.
- Direct (the good way): I found the feedback you gave me on my presentation harsh.
- Too direct: He's so unprofessional.
- Direct (the good way): He has late twice last week.
8. Offer solutions
An effective way to share your ideas in a clear way and for people to listen to you is to offer solutions. You may disagree with others, but by suggestng what to do instead, you help to find a solution, so it's not just pure criticism, but constructive feedback.
Both direct and indirect communication can be helpful in different situations. If you are a rather direct person communicating with an indirect communicator, follow the 8 steps above to make sure your message is effective and you don't hurt others.
When receving feedback, ignore all the soft words surrounding the message and analyze as if you’d heard just that. That will help you avoid misunderstandings.
What do you prefer at work, direct or indirect communication? We'd love to read your thoughts in this LinkedIn post.
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Talaera Talks - Transcript Episode 48
If you are learning English, including new English words and expressions will help you with effective communication. Remember to check out our other episodes on how to make small talk, how to deliver engaging presentations, how to speak English fluently, and many more: visit the podcast website. Listen to it on your favorite platform.
Welcome to Talaera Talks, the business English communication podcast for non-native professionals. My name is Paola and I am co-hosting this show with Simon. In this podcast, we're going to be covering communication advice and tips to help express yourself with confidence in English in professional settings. So we hope you enjoy the show!
Paola Pascual 0:24
Hello there, I hope you're having a wonderful day, wherever you're listening from. The topic I've prepared for you today is inspired by a webinar Simon and I recently hosted and the topic was "Effective Communication". We touched on quite a few fascinating aspects of, you know, effective communication. But my favorite was how different cultures perceive effective communication, right? It's always different. So many people joined, I think, a few hundreds, and shared a lot of facts about your your own culture. But an interesting question that came up was, should you be direct and honest or is it better to be more polite and tactful? And that is what I would like to talk about today, you know, in this episode, is direct communication better or worse than indirect communication? And when does it become too direct?
Paola Pascual 1:24
So I'll start by clarifying what we mean by direct and indirect communication, what it is like, what it sounds like, where like what different cultures prefer, indirect or direct. And then I'd love to share some tips that I, you know, that have worked for me, living abroad and working with people from from all over the world. And here's where I would love to hear your thoughts. You know, we're creating a LinkedIn post, I'll add it to the episode comments. And my question is, do you prefer rather direct or indirect communication at work? Again, I'll drop the link in the episode description. And please come and comment, I would be super curious to hear your thoughts.
Paola Pascual 2:09
So let's start by clarifying a bit what we mean by direct communication. So direct communication is, when we convey a message in a clear and straightforward way, what you say is exactly what you mean. There are no double meanings or implicit information. And, you know, direct communicators often use what we call upgraders. These are just words that make your statements stronger, such as absolutely, totally, extremely, incredibly 100%. And direct communicators will often say things like time is money, get to the point, or you can cut out the fluff, or it's better to cut to the chase. And in general, for them, honesty is the best policy. Now, where does this happen? Well, people from East rail Germany and the Netherlands tend to be much more direct than in other cultures. They think that direct communication is it's a good thing, you know, and, in general, honesty and respect for telling the truth is what truly matters. But yeah, so that's what they think about themselves, but others people from from, you know, more indirect cultures may see them as harsh or rude. And, you know, if you're too direct, others may think that you lack compassion and self awareness, you know, so there's the two sides of it. Now, what do we mean by indirect communication? Well, it is exactly the opposite, right? It's about conveying the message, not just by the words, but by nonverbal cues, like your tone of voice and your pitch, or when you make pauses or the movement of your eyes, you know, eye roll, or the body posture if you're crossing your hand your arms. And in general, indirect communicators may see me say things like, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything. You know, they tend to use longer sentences and there are hidden meanings sometimes. And remember how we said that direct communicators use upgraders while indirect communicators use down graders for words that soften your message, like, perhaps, maybe, possibly, slightly kind of sort of think minor, a little bit bid. And they did rather ask questions instead of giving directions, you know, things like, oh, but wouldn't you rather do this instead? Versus you should do this? Right? What are some idioms and expressions that you can think about, you know, that you can think of, in terms of indirect communication?
Paola Pascual 5:23
I have two, one is to beat around the bush, right? When you're not direct, You're beating around the bush. And the other one is to sugarcoat things, it's when you try to wrap them nicely, especially when you want to say something negative, but you wrap it in a way that makes it sound a little bit nicer bus to sugarcoat. And where is indirect communication more common? Well, in general, in Asian or Eastern countries, Japan, is the perfect example. But you also have others like Thailand or Indonesia, you know, they tend to be some of the most indirect cultures in the world. The UK, a lot of you have asked me in the past, does the UK have a more direct or indirect communication? Well, you always have to remember that, when we talk about cultural differences, we always do that by comparison. So compared to what I would say the UK lies somewhere down the middle. But they are more indirect than most European countries. That means that if your British boss says something like, I suggest that you think about this, it probably means changing your behavior right away. So yeah, they can be indirect in that sense. What do others think about this style? Well, a lot of people think that indirect communication is is more diplomatic, and it prevents conflict. But on the other hand, it it can lead to misunderstandings, you know, with all those hidden meanings. And it can also be seen as weak or lacking confidence. So, there's good and bad things about both, which one is the best, or one is direct to direct? Well, yeah, direct can be seen as a gift or as a as a negative thing. Indirect is diplomatic, and it can be confusing for others? The answer is, it depends. When we are in a culture, or better say, each culture has a range of what is appropriate or not. And we, as individuals, make a choice within that range. There's this book by Aaron Mayer, the Culture Map, which I always recommend. And she says, It's not about culture, or personality, but of culture, and personality. And to that I would add, and context. I also did some research and sneaked into some HR and manager forums. And it was interesting, many women reported being told they were too direct, they didn't know what to do. And it feels like there's almost like an expectation or a bias that women should you know, or they are supposed to be extra warm, and smiley, and energetic all the time. And when that doesn't happen, then we come across as too direct or harsh. So anyway, I won't get into this now. But it's just worth mentioning that sometimes it's not what you say, or how you say it, but also who you are at the end of the day. So let's say you are a direct communicator, what can you do to make sure that you still convey the message clearly and directly, but you know, it's not too much and you don't get to offend anyone? Well, the best advice that I can give you is for you to bring your authentic, normal self to work. But also remember that direct shouldn't mean route. Let's look at some specifics. That you know, some specific tips that will help you communicate directly without offending anyone. The first one is build relationships seriously, the more trust you build in your workplace relationships, with colleagues, with clients, with with your boss with your reports. So the more trust you build with them, the more space you have for unexplained by SMS him the more you can cut to the chase, right, the more you can get to the point so make sure you build relationships. Second one is listen intently If it means truly listen to people and acknowledge what they're saying. That way they'll be more open to listen to what you have to say. Even if it's if it's a little bit harsher than what they would expect.
Paola Pascual 10:15
Number three is always consider your audience, do a little bit of research about your team and where they're from, and try to always find common ground. So it's usually it's, it works better to meet in the middle, or somewhere in the middle. Number four, and this one is one of my favorite, explicitly explain how you communicate. If you are a direct communicator, say it upfront, you can say something like, Hey, listen, I, you know, I'm from Israel, and I often communicate in a direct way, I hope you don't get offended. But please let me know if you know if something sounds wrong to you. Number five, beware of nonverbal communication, your pitch, your tone, your arms, your posture, if you want to deliver a very direct message, make sure that your pitch is a little bit friendlier. So that means a rising pitch, like what I'm doing now see how it's a little friendlier. Your tone a little bit more gentle, don't cross your arms and have in general, like an open body, body language. Number six has to do with the message itself. Try bottom lining, that is to say in as few words as possible, what your point is just one sentence. And with that, you need to be super specific and clear. One of the problems with indirect communication is to, you know, be too vague, and at the end of the day that the other person doesn't clearly understand what they should do next. Number seven, focus on actions, facts and behavior, but not on the person. So remove all the judgments and assumptions, you know, it's better to add actual examples. So instead of saying, you were rude the other day, try saying the feedback you gave me on you know how i My presentation was not professional, hurt me. So there, you're you're not saying you were rude. You're really describing exactly what the other person did that that you didn't agree with. And the last one is to offer solutions. So you can be super direct, but always try to offer solutions. Instead of saying, imagine you're in a meeting. You totally disagree with other people. But you can say, well, instead of saying that's a bad idea, you can say, well, the system may not support that idea. But how do you feel about doing this instead? Still short. It's still direct, but you're more approaching it from a constructive perspective. So yeah, remember, build relationships. Listen, you know and acknowledge what other people are saying. Consider your audience and try to find common ground. Explicit explicitly explain how you communicate, you know, be open about it. Careful with your nonverbal communication, and 678 have to do with the message itself. bottom lining, it means say it just as few words as possible, what your point is, focus on actions, or facts or behavior, not the person and offer solutions. If you are on the other side of the story, you know, if you're a rather direct person communicating with an indirect communicator, one tip that I often give to my students is to ignore all the soft words surrounding the message and try to analyze it as if you just heard that you know the message but leaving out all the fluffy words and, and the down graders. Again, I've created this post on LinkedIn where I'd love to read your thoughts. The question was, What do you prefer direct or indirect communication at work, you find the link in the description. That's it. That's it for today. I hope you enjoyed this episode. As always, keep learning.
And that's all we have for you today. We hope you enjoyed it, and remember to subscribe to Talaera Talks. We'll be back soon with more! And visit our website at talaera.com for more valuable content on business English. You can also request a free consultation on the best ways for you and your team to improve your communication skills. So have a great day and keep learning!