One of our biggest social dilemmas is figuring out how to respond to people who are passive-aggressive, sarcastic, or just indirect in the way they communicate.
Very few people are boldly direct. Many cultures around the world encourage indirect and passive forms of communication, thinking that this somehow promotes social harmony. All to often, it only leads to miscommunication, resentment, and disharmony in the long run.
Indirectness is cowardice.
We often go through layers and layers of interpretation and try to work around what they’re saying, and then we usually take it the wrong way. We create all this drama for ourselves.
There’s a strategy for dealing with indirectness that I learned from observing simple guys, the kind that are oblivious to hidden meanings and innuendos etc. And that is you just take everything at face value.
It’s the most effective response. Even if someone’s trying to manipulate you or whatever. just treat every word they say as it meaning exactly what it seems to mean on the surface. This approach breaks through all of these problems.
If someone’s indirect with you about what they want, and you just show that you don’t understand what they mean, they’re forced to become direct or otherwise they don’t get what they want. Whereas if you try to guess and meet that hidden need, you’re only feeding this behaviour.
If someone says “I don’t know” when you ask them what they want for lunch, then you say “Guess you’re not hungry then.”
If someone sarcastically says “Good job!” when you did something they don’t approve of, you just say “Thanks!” with a smile.
If someone says “I suppose I’ll have to do it all by myself” instead of directly asking for help, you say “Yeah I’m surprised that you don’t ask for more support”.
Just play it dumb, just take it at face value – whatever they said is what they mean – and just watch how it plays out.
If nothing else, it’s a relief not having to decode what people are saying!
- For practical tactics around how to communicate boldly, check out my Powerful Honesty: Developer Superior Communication Skills course
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