How to Speak To Millions


Reasons You Should Learn “Indirect Speak”

Indirect communication is seen as being weak, deceptive, subversive, etc. If you’ve been in some cultural communication training classes you may have experienced the following:

Direct communication is more effective than indirect.
People who speak indirectly are broken and need to be fixed.
If you don’t communicate exactly what you mean, (say what you mean and mean what you say) you are not trustworthy and should be ashamed of yourself.
The world would be a better place if only everyone would speak directly.

When I work with executives, I go against the above presumptions.

Why? Because most communication courses are taught by those who are direct in their communication styles. However, most global leaders will be conducting business with the billions of people in India and China, or the millions in South America, or southern Europe, the Gulf, or Africa. A global leader needs to learn effective communication tactics and not expect others to adjust for them.

If a leader is from a direct communicating culture and must conduct business in an indirect speaking culture, they will need to learn “indirect speak.”

If they are from an indirect speaking culture, and must conduct business in a direct speaking culture, they must learn “direct speak.”

Mastering the techniques needed to speak and decode indirect speak is valuable even in cultures where direct speaking is the norm. An example, even though Americans prefer direct speaking, there are degrees of directness that can be applied when communicating with Americans. Stating things too bluntly will be perceived by an American as being extremely rude. See my article: Cultural Communication Styles Americans and Germans Speak, for a clearer understanding of how subtle direct speaking can be perceived in the United States.

For now, back to my point. If you want to appeal to over three billion people around the globe, than I urge you to learn “indirect speak” and to learn when and how to use it effectively. I will provide you with a few good reasons why this skill is of benefit:

  1. Understanding a culture means understanding their communication style. For example, If you can’t interpret when your Indian partner suggests that something is wrong, you not only have a serious misunderstanding in your hands, but you’ve also demonstrated a gap in your understanding of his/her culture. Moving forward, your ability to work in that culture will be seriously impaired.

    If you take offense to the directness of your German colleague’s speaking manner, you will never be able to communicate effectively, bad feelings will develop. Understanding and adjusting for their cultural communication styles will go a long way in getting things done in a friendly manner.

  2. Indirect communication keeps you from making mistakes. One advantage is that you can edit your message as you go. For example, if you make a suggestion, and it elicits a bad response, you can adjust it and not worry about making a huge mistake.

    Let us say you ask your boss for a raise. You might walk into his/her office and say, “I would like to talk about a raise. I think I deserve one, I have been contributing a lot.” That is direct!

    Saying the same indirectly may look like this:

    “Hello, do you have a minute?” Sure, what do you need? I would like to talk to you about all the contributions I have been making and the new accounts I have been signing on. Yes, actually, I have been meaning to talk to you about that. One of our new clients phoned and mentioned that he was disappointed that you have not been in touch.” Your reply could be, “I had no idea he had a situation. Let me follow up and see what is going on.”

    This indirect approach, allows you to understand that asking for a raise at that moment may not have been the right time. As matter of fact, asking at that time, would have been awkward for you and your manager.

    This approach saved you from a “no” to I would like a raise. Indirect speaking buys you time to correct shortcomings and then you can go back for another time after things are back on track. Only, second time around, you may actually get the raise.

  3. Indirect communication allows you to save face. You have spent the last six weeks working on a great project with your boss.

    During a meeting, the CEO looks at the report and notices a mistake in the numbers and asks you about it. Saying, “Bob, gave me those figures,” would not be a wise answer, since it will most likely alienate you from Bob. Instead, you can say, “We checked those numbers against last year’s figures, so I am glad you are questioning them. Let me double-check and get back to you.” Not only did you compliment the CEO, and save your relationship with your boss, but you gave yourself the chance to fix mistakes.

  4. Real meanings are hidden in indirect messages. Let’s say you are at a business meeting with the partners of a new venture. One of them says, “We have enjoyed working with you, but we think it would be great for us to meet again.” In your mind, you may think, they will never close this deal, they want to spend time on further meetings, they want to spend money on expensive meals, and waste my precious time.

    You are wrong! What they are really communicating is that they are impressed with you, but feeling a bit nervous about trusting you. They would like more time to get to know you better before closing a deal, or sealing an agreement.

  5. Indirect communication allows you to say “no” in a respectful way. In some cultures the word “no” does not exist. For example, an Indian colleague contacts you to invite you to his home for his daughter’s birthday. You don’t really want to go, but know that saying no outright will hurt his feelings and come across as very rude, because In their culture they don’t say no. Instead, you can say, “I will try my best.” That, in the Indian culture, is saying no. They will understand that you are unable to attend.

The best reason why “indirect speak” will help you is because:

People will do business with you!

If you are able to communicate with indirect speakers and understand what it is they are saying, or not saying, you will be sought after. They will respect you and view you as credible.