Direct vs. indirect communication: definition and examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 18 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Understanding the place of direct vs. indirect communication and its effect in an organisation is important to promoting teamwork and meaningful progress. When the two different approaches mix, there may be more potential for conflict and stress on the job. Thus, handling differences in communication styles can help you interpret messages and give clear, practical instructions. In this article, we discuss the difference between direct and indirect communication, provide examples of both terms and outline tips you can use to communicate directly.

Direct vs. indirect communication

When considering direct vs. indirect communication, it's essential to describe the components. Direct communication is an interactive process where a speaker expresses their genuine intentions in a verbal message. It states the speaker's demands and desires explicitly. Direct conversations make your intentions easy for the recipient to understand. This communication style best suits the workplace or a situation requiring a clear resolution. When a direct communicator wants something, they say it with no hidden meaning in the message. They also accept the other speaker's statements at face value and appreciate the effectiveness of brief, direct responses.

Indirect communication is where the speaker dilutes their intentions. Rather than making plain statements, they hint at their expectations to the listeners and might use periods of silence to support their points. An indirect communicator avoids straightforward responses to queries that could incite conflict or result in an uncomfortable scenario. Thus, you can use it as a non-explicit attempt to persuade or influence someone to behave in the way you desire. Also, indirect speakers prefer being friendly or diplomatic to save a colleague embarrassment or protect their self-esteem.

Related: Interpersonal Communication: Definitions and Examples

Direct communication style

The direct communication style is simple, clear and obvious. It's straight to the point and leaves no room to speculate on the communicator's intentions. In the workplace, such communicators might seem blunt. Direct communicators can easily satisfy their needs because they use plain speech to express their opinions and expectations. They may sometimes appear rude or argumentative because of their direct approach.

Some components of direct communication include:

Active listening

Here, the recipient listens to the speaker with rapt attention and engages in the conversation. They may nod their heads in agreement and make eye contact with the speaker while analysing what they say. This type of listening focuses on the present.

Effective feedback

Feedback is a crucial component of direct communication. It involves constructive and prompt responses. For example, you might use feedback as part of job performance reviews detailing how employees behave in the workplace.

Read more: How to give critical feedback effectively and its importance

Examples of direct communication

The following are examples of direct communication:

  • 'Can you please call the client today?'

  • 'There's a problem with the customer service section of this company.'

  • 'That's too expensive.'

  • 'I'm upset because you haven't been listening to me.'

  • 'You've made several errors and incorrect assumptions in this report. Go back, check your data and proofread your work.'

  • 'I have a migraine and want to take advantage of a sick leave today.'

  • 'We can finish this job tomorrow.'

Related: 10 communication techniques to help you in the workplace

Indirect communication style

Body language plays a prominent role in indirect communication. Here, such communicators convey their messages via non-verbal means. They use tone of voice, body language, gestures and facial expressions to convey their point of view. This style of communication is sometimes ineffective, as it might leave the other person to guess at the speaker's intentions. It might also lead to miscommunication and increased tension. Some indirect communicators may be too shy to show assertiveness for fear of retaliation.

Examples of indirect communication:

The following are examples of indirect communication:

  • I was wondering if you could call the client today.

  • It seems there's a slight problem with the customer service today.

  • Won't that be expensive?

  • It seems there are some mistakes in this report, and readers may question some of your assumptions. Can you check it over another time before finalising it?

  • It appears this migraine is affecting my work performance today. I think it might only get better when I see the doctor.

  • Does anyone else want to go somewhere for lunch?

  • It's obvious that if we delay tidying up this job tonight, there might be a serious query tomorrow.

Comparing direct and indirect communication

Some differences between direct and indirect communication include:

Word choice

Direct communication involves using coherent messages with simple and ambiguous words and definitive answers to questions. Indirect communication involves milder and softer language and ambiguous words. You maintain polite speech and avoid offending the listener.

Interpretation

Direct communication is easy to interpret as the communicator speaks their exact intentions in a few words. In contrast, indirect communication might challenge the listener's understanding and be open to misinterpretation. It's sometimes necessary for the listener to interpret the message through the speaker's nonverbal cues, tone and context.

Conflict resolution

Direct communication offers an enabling environment for fast and accurate conflict resolution. It's practical when trying to solve a problem. Indirect communication sometimes increases tensions, making conflict resolution more complex. Indirect communicators often focus on how listeners might interpret the message when handling problems.

Read more: Conflict management strategies for successful managers

Written communication

Written direct communication is brief and easy to understand. It's helpful in emergencies and for delivering low-value information and unexpected news. Most communicators choose straightforward messaging under such circumstances. Indirect written messages show consideration for the reader by presenting the potential outcomes of less positive news.

Related: Written communication skills: definition and examples

Emphasis

While indirect communication might focus more on the relationship between the speaker and listener, it carries less risk of offending the recipient. Direct communication often places more emphasis on the message itself. Although the risk of misunderstanding the context is low, direct communication can shock or offend the recipient.

Impact

When compared to indirect communication, direct communication has the potential to be more forceful and instantaneous. This is because it offers clarity and focus. The effects of indirect communication are often more subtle.

Related: What are communication skills?

Tips for direct communication

The following are tips for direct conversations:

Create connections

Building relationships is critical. Direct communication thrives when there's a solid rapport between the participants. Thus, it's crucial to establish connections with the people you frequently interact with.

Consider your audience

Consider your audience and what people want to hear when you're speaking. When you have a target in mind, direct communication is more successful. If you have no point to make, it often helps if you soften your language to avoid disagreements and misunderstandings.

Pay close attention when you listen

You can enhance direct conversations when you listen closely. Consider what the other person says and attempt to see their perspective. When you're active in listening, it better informs your decisions. Further, pay attention to your non-verbal cues. Your listener may interpret your message differently depending on your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. Direct communication is more effective when nonverbal communication is under control.

Describe your communication style

Direct communication becomes more effective when you correctly define your communication style. Be open to receiving comments from others and tell how you prefer to communicate. Also, understand the differences between communication methods and don't expect the person you're in dialogue with to apply your style.

Concentrate on the facts rather than the person

Criticism promotes progress when it's constructive. It's beneficial to put aside personal sentiment when interpreting a message. Avoid criticising the other individual and keep your attention on the current problem.

Related: A comprehensive guide to workplace communication styles

Present remedies

Offering solutions makes direct communication more successful. Rather than transferring blame, attempt to resolve the current issue. Conflicts sometimes occur in personal and workplace relationships, so it's crucial to learn how to resolve them.

Show patience

Allow opportunities and time for others to express themselves when they're ready to improve direct communication. Thus, when you seek answers from colleagues who are slow to respond, be empathetic and collaborate with other team members in the interim. Also, refrain from interjecting when another person communicates their opinion.

Learn to disagree

You can communicate more clearly when you understand that disagreement is a possibility. You can also contradict someone else's opinion without appearing impolite. Stating your message in simple terms increases the effectiveness of direct communication.

Be diplomatic

State your case in an understanding and tactful manner. For example, concentrate on offering constructive criticism instead of using authoritative language. Also, softening your tone when announcing unpopular news is less likely to offend your colleagues.

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