5 tips for merging direct and indirect communication styles

Marianne Slotboom
Dec 16, 2021

According to the experts on intercultural collaboration, one of the most important differences is found in the way people communicate and the level of directness (or indirectness) they use in their messages (ET Hall, 1976, G Hofstede, 1991, F Trompenaars, 1993, E Meyer, 2014).

In the direct style of communication, valued in countries such as Australia, U.S., Germany, The Netherlands, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, it is appreciated to ‘get to the point’ , ‘cut the chase’ and be transparent about what you think and feel. Conflicts are addressed in a clear way. In their perception it is respectful to be transparent and honest, say what you mean and let “yes be yes” and “no be no”. In fact, when things are not stated directly, people from the direct style can become confused and frustrated, they often don’t know how to interpret the message when stated in an indirect way.

Non-verbal communication

In the indirect communication style, more common in Asian and Arab cultures, and Latin-America, it is appreciated to communicate in such a way that conflict will be avoided or at least will not cause someone lose face. Messages are subtly implied and contextual elements, such as non-verbal signs are highly important for the right interpretation. Indirect people are accustomed to reading between the lines to understand the message. It is considered respectful to be indirect in your messages and harmony is key.

Merging these two communication styles in your international team might be quite challenging.

5 Tips For Merging Direct And Indirect Communication Styles

  1. Be aware of the fact that it is possible to communicate effectively with people who have different styles but not without effort.
  2. To enhance constructive intercultural communication, you’ll have to accept that there is no “right or wrong way” for a person to interact.
  3. Be aware of your biases and postpone your judgement. Direct communicators might think that indirect people are evasive, dishonest, can’t take a stand, have no opinion, and increase tension within the team by not dealing with issues directly. Indirect communicators might think that direct communicators are insensitive, have no tact and are boorish, are insulting, are harsh, increase tension by dealing with issues in a direct manner.
  4. Increase your comprehension for the way people show respect, even when it might be the opposite of what you would expect to be respectful.
  5. Practice the opposite communication style to become more flexible and discover the advantages of both styles.
Business Communication

Some specific suggestions for direct communicators when communicating with indirect communicators: remember that maintaining harmony may be seen as more important than providing honest feedback, avoid blunt comments, pay attention to nonverbal behaviors and in case of a discrepancy between nonverbal signs and the words, don't take the words literally. Recognize that, for indirect communicators, it’s “always easier to agree than to disagree".

Some suggestions for indirect speakers when communicating with direct speakers: recognize that your subtle messages may not be perceived in the way you expect or may not be perceived at all, realize that honesty is well appreciated by direct speakers and they might feel cheated if you're not transparent, use more direct speech if needed, it will be appreciated.

It is important to remember that both communication styles are found in every culture, having varying degrees of directness or indirectness!

In a culturally intelligent team people are encouraged to be comfortable in their own skin while learning which behaviors and prejudices need to be adjusted. The tips above are just a few of the essential guidelines needed to get to high performance in international teams.

Marianne Slotboom
The author
Marianne Slotboom

Marianne is a strategic partner and practical developer of human behavior that helps leaders, teams and organizations become more focused and effective, elevating their value to customers. In 2015, Marianne founded Yellow Training to answer the call for more inspirational and creative leadership in the modern workplace.

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