Direct vs. Indirect communication

Understanding the differences between direct and indirect communication can help you understand how to interpret a message. If you recognize your counterpart’s communication style, you are more likely to avoid misunderstandings and potential conflicts.

The LOSW Vision sets a standard of clear and direct communication, but we understand that every individual may have their own personal challenges to this style of communication.

In order to shed some light on the differences between direct and indirect communication, here are a few situations or ways in which direct and indirect communication differ:

Word choices

Direct communicators often use clear messages that that require few words to express. They often focus on the clarity of their message rather than its interpretation. For example, a direct communicator might simply say no to requests they don’t want to do or ones that make them uncomfortable.

Indirect communication often involves subtle language, including a particular choice of words to maintain polite speech and avoid offending the receiver. Being polite is often more important than being succinct as an indirect communicator.

Interpretation

Direct communication is easy to interpret because the speaker clearly states their message in a few simple words. The meaning of their message is explicit, so their statements present little risk of misunderstanding.

Indirect communication often requires a listener to interpret their message using nonverbal cues, tone and the context of the discussion. A listener often gathers information from other sources when trying to interpret indirect communication, so the speaker’s intentions are implicit. It might be challenging for someone accustomed to a more direct communication style to understand the meaning of indirect statements.

Conflict management

Direct communication is often more appropriate when dealing with conflict because it is effective when trying to solve a problem. When language is clear and direct, a resolution can reach a distinct conclusion sooner and with less chance for prolonged conflict.

Indirect communicators prefer to handle problems with discretion and strategy. They often focus on their message’s interpretation rather than making their message clear and distinct. Some conflicts may warrant indirect communication, but when trying to quickly solve an issue, direct communication works best.

Written communication

Direct written communication is concise and straightforward. Situations that might require direct written communication are emergencies, information of low importance or expected news. In these cases, most communicators opt for simple messages with clear explanations.

Indirect written communication demonstrates courtesy and respect for a reader. Situations that warrant indirect communication include messages where you communicate unexpected news that might upset a reader. In these cases, you might introduce your message with a compliment or better news and explain the possible positive outcomes of the bad news.

Cultural preference

Cultures that often use more direct communication, typically Western cultures, usually appreciate direct truthfulness in a business setting.

In cultures where indirect communication is prevalent, typically Eastern cultures, people often consider it impolite to communicate negative information directly. If you conduct business with people who might prefer indirect communication, diplomatic strategies and politeness when confronting a disagreement might work best.

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