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How to deal with indirect people

There’s a question I get asked quite often by my clients, which is:

“How do you deal with people who are indirect?”

How do you deal with people who ask for what they want in subtle, hidden, vague, discreet ways that you have to interpret like a code to figure out what they’re saying?

I’m sure you know the type (hell, you might be this type yourself).

Instead of asking to borrow your car, they pout and thoughtfully say, “Man, I don’t how I’m going to get to the appointment without a vehicle”.

Instead of telling you what they want to eat, they say, “What do you want for dinner?” and then disagree with every option you list that isn’t their secret preference.

Instead of telling you that they’re attracted to you, they ask you lots of questions about yourself and hope that you’ll make the first move.

I’ve pondered these people for many years, and tried lots of different ways to deal with them effectively. At first, like most people, I tried to read their minds and accurately guess what they want, which only led me to constantly “fix” people, often by misinterpreting their “signals” as cries for help.

But once I recovered from Nice Guy Syndrome, I quickly discovered that the best way to deal with it is to actually refuse to play the game, to be too dumb to read anything but direct signals.

And I don’t mean to be dishonest. What I mean is you take them at their word. You don’t bother reading into it or trying to hear the hidden message.

It’s actually a strength that neurodivergent people have that they never use to their full advantage.

If someone says like, “I’m a bit hungry”, and that’s their way of asking you to buy them food, just say, “Yeah you must be hungry, you haven’t eaten in a while”, and go back to whatever it was that you were doing.

Whenever somebody comes at you indirectly, force them to be direct to get what they want. Show them that if they don’t then they won’t get anything.

Eventually they will get upset with you. In their minds, you’re the bad guy who “didn’t listen” to them.

And when this happens, you can honestly say, “I sort of knew that you were secretly asking for something, but I refuse to play that game. Maybe I’m stupid. Maybe I’m lazy. Doesn’t matter. If you want something from me, come at me direct. Most times, I will help you out. If you don’t speak directly, I will choose to assume you don’t need me for anything. This is how I am. It’s your choice from now on.”

This is how you stop enabling that bad behaviour.

P.S. I don’t recommend being this ruthless with everyone all the time. This advice is specifically to deal with people who are consistently indirect over time, to the point where it damages your relationship.


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One Response

  1. I should note, you will be tested with this, so stay strong and don’t give in to the temptation to mind read. Force them to address their communication style.

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