Discussion: Intercultural Communication: Direct vs. Indirect Communication
Living in a society where direct communication is the norm, and then conducting business or managing an employee who has grown up in a society where indirect communication is the norm can create some unwanted anxiety and tension.
Communication in Western cultures is typically direct and explicit. The meaning is on the surface, and a listener doesn’t have to know much about the context or the speaker to interpret it. This is not true in many other cultures, where meaning is embedded in the way the message is presented. For example, Western negotiators get crucial information about the other party’s preferences and priorities by asking direct questions, such as “Do you prefer option A or option B?” In cultures that use indirect communication, negotiators may have to infer preferences and priorities from changes—or the lack of them—in the other party’s settlement proposal. In cross-cultural negotiations, the non-Westerner can understand the direct communications of the Westerner, but the Westerner has difficulty understanding the indirect communications of the non-Westerner.
In China, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries, indirect communication is very common. One reason behind the indirectness is respect. As a practical example, if an employee in Afghanistan is in need of a favor from his or her supervisor (e.g., requesting a day off), the proper protocol is to go to his or her supervisor’s office and have a generic conversation with the supervisor and after the conversation is over, the supervisor will ask if there is any request that the supervisor can assist the employee with and that is when the employee has the green light to ask for the favor. In the United States, this process can be as easy as sending an email to his or her supervisor requesting a day off.
Please answer the following questions:
What are your experiences with direct versus indirect communication?
Do you prefer direct versus indirect communication? Justify your response.
As a future manager, how will you deal with employees who communicate indirectly?