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Direct vs. Indirect Requests

Direct vs. Indirect Requests

By Donna Dunning

Personality Type and Communication

Usually, the advice given for offering feedback is to be direct, describe specific behaviors, and to give concrete examples.

When discussing personality type differences and giving and receiving feedback, a common topic that arises is the use of indirect comments and suggestions. Through these discussions I am learning that people respond differently to indirect comments.

You might want to…

I ask groups how they respond when someone says “You might want to change…” or even “You should (or could) change…”. Many times people who have a Feeling preference tell me they hear these comments as directive and that they would respond by making the change.

However, people who prefer Thinking often comment that they hear these phrases as optional feedback. They will consider what is said and may or may not decide to make a change.

Usually this starts an engaging discussion about how feedback is offered and accepted. It seems those who prefer Feeling like the softer tone of the “you might” to the direct “change this” feedback. However, when they give feedback this way to others they risk having their feedback ignored.

Between Types

I personally respond well to suggestions. I prefer softer rather than commanding comments. Since, of course, we tend to offer feedback the same way we prefer to receive it, at home, I would use this same approach on my son (ISTJ preferences).

However, I was unlikely to see action when mentioning to my son, “It would be nice if you would help today by doing the dishes.” To get action it was better to say, “Please do the dishes today by 5 before I start supper.”

As he got older and we started to talk about our communication, he told me that he would basically ignore the “You might want to…” kind of comments. To him these were suggestions, not requests.

There I was, trying to be diplomatic, but actually becoming frustrated when he wasn’t jumping into action.

Do you tend to give and respond to direct requests or indirect suggestions? Do you see a link between personality type preferences and people’s responses? Any good stories or examples you can share with readers?

If you are looking for ideas on how to communicate more effectively, Introduction to Type and Communication helps you understand communication preferences.

If you live in the USA, Introduction to Type and Communication is now available on Kindle.

The images for this series on personality type concepts are from a recent visit to the Butterfly Gardens near Victoria, British Columbia.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 at 8:35 am and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “Direct vs. Indirect Requests”

  1. Andrea says:

    I recently read something relating to this when trying to determine whether I am an INTP or an INFJ. This particular article (not the previous one I read) was attempting to help determine whether your preference for communication was direct or indirect. I don’t believe it’s a case of being a Thinker or a Feeler preferring one or another. Geography plays a large role in communication styles – ie, the Northeast PA are very direct communicators, even to the point of rudeness. The south and mid-western-south are very indirect communicators. I have lived in all three areas of the country and so know from experience.
    I personally exercise both methods of communicating, starting indirectly to avoid the other person’s assumption that I’m a know-it-all (I get that a lot but really I just love sharing information and making sure everyone is on the same page, a very NT thing) and becoming more direct depending upon the level of comprehension or if their preferred direct/indirect becomes apparent. However I *prefer* to be communicated to directly with as many specifics as possible. This is because I have such a tremendous store of knowledge in my brain that vagaries leave me feeling ‘wobbly’ with too many options to choose from, and many of those options may be redundant or simply ‘wrong’. Directness helps me to keep from making intuitive leaps that may land me in the wrong place so to speak.
    And to clarify I have ascertained I am an INFJ, not an INTP (apparently they can be easily confused!).

  2. Susan says:

    As an INTJ I hate indirect if it’s really meant to be direct. I find it dishonest, not diplomatic, and it irritates me if I recognize it. Sometimes it will fly right over my head that I’m being hinted at. Other times, depending on the subject, it may come off as weak or wishy washy to me (I might think, “why ‘might’ I want to do something? Don’t you have a real opinion? If so, say it clearly, if not, don’t waste my time with things you haven’t considered”).

    The best thing for me is when someone has thought through what they think and why and then they really do present it as a suggestion because they respect my ability to think it through myself and they respect my freedom to decide and trust me to do what is best. I can’t stand anything that feels like disrespect or coercion or manipulation. I loathe feeling like I’m being “handled.”

    You’re so right about communicating to others the way you prefer and it’s often a bad outcome. What feels like honest, direct, intelligent, dispassionate feedback to me can easily crush someone with a feeling preference. I am slowly learning to give feedback that shows the honesty and the respect I desire to give without being as directive and without being obscure or oblique. It’s not easy with some types. INFP’s are particularly difficult for me of late. They are really oblique and indirect by nature and I am the opposite so relating to them, for me, is the most difficult at times.

  3. Kristina says:

    As an INTJ, I also want to know if this is a suggestion or a directive. I like to know what is going on.

  4. Christy says:

    Your last sentence is quite fascinating, because I can never decide whether I’m more INTP or INFJ. I had never heard that they’re easily confusable. I wonder why that is.

  5. Christy says:

    When it comes to feedback, suggestions, “it would be better if you…” sorts of things, I much prefer it indirect. For some reason, I tend to feel attacked in the direct mode, when someone says, “You were wrong” or “You need to do it this way.” If it’s couched as a suggestion or just put in more gentle terms, I’m much more likely to be willing to listen and pay attention and consider it.

  6. Lora says:

    I’m with you Susan…can totally agree and am the same…E version!
    As an ESTJ, I prefer direct, Not abrasive or condescending. I married an ISFP, and after years of study and observation, I have learned to work with people more as they are Extroverts and Introverts. Such a difference there. I deal mostly with Feelers, So…I say ” How do you feel about working with…or doing this”? It gives that person the opportunity to to decide how they feel about that task before I put them to the Challenge. If they feel good about it, I ask if they can get it done within a time frame…then when they say “Yes”…I say: “Your Awesome! Thank you soo much! Let me know if you have questions and I’ll check in on you later!” I have found that works with INFP or FPs mostly…
    When I deal with E/I TJs, I’m kind, but more direct in my asking of them. By nature, I trust TJs and most SFJs to know what to do without giving too much detail. They, in turn, ask if they want to clarify anything before going on to the project.
    I have also learned not to expect much from the NFPs, Or FPs in general. I know they have high hopes for their endeavors, and Perceive less guilt and follow-through knowing the world won’t come to an End…because they Know…Someone else will Pick it up, Show up or Make it up as they go!

  7. Susan (INTJ) says:

    Direct communication can be harsh or abrasive, but not always. It can be done with great respect and gentleness. Indirect communication though… I’m struggling with it as I think it through. Can anyone give me some examples of indirect communication that does not include some element of dishonesty or self-protection?

    I think we all use both types of communication and we all prefer both types depending on the situation. When, for instance, I am being corrected about something personally important to me, or something that hits an emotional chord, I can, on rare occasions, prefer indirect. Usually, however, it’s when my pride is at stake though and I prefer the indirect because it gives me the illusion and the social “out” of coming to the right answer on my own. Again though–see the dishonesty? The times I prefer indirect it’s because I’m looking to be dishonest or to self-protect on some level, to hide my failure or to give an illusion of “knowing” something I didn’t know or was wrong about.

    Something about indirect really doesn’t sit right with me I guess… maybe some examples of indirect that don’t contain an element of dishonesty or self-protection would help. I can’t think of any at the moment.

  8. Nadya says:

    I have some trouble communicating with my mom because she (ESFJ) prefers to be indirect while I (INTP) prefer direct. For the most part I’ve learned to say things indirectly for her, but it’s still difficult for me when she comes out with “Would you be willing to do something for me?” and then goes into a story about the reason she’s asking me to do something before finally, eventually coming around to the point where she tells me what it is she actually wants me to do. I’m quite clear that she uses this roundabout method to soften the request, but when it’s going on I’m just getting more and more irritated while my imagination runs wild on all the possibilities of what it might be that she wants me to do. While she’s explaining I’m usually thinking “Why do I need to know this? Just tell me what you want.” But to say that out loud naturally hurts her feelings, and also results in taking two or three times longer to get to the point.

    Just to be clear I’m not intending to harp on my mother or ESFJs. I actually have a very high opinion of her. She’s warm, caring, responsible, hard-working, soft-hearted, and just downright adorable. But our different preferences really do make communication often frustrating. Of course she gets frustrated with me just as much, though usually more over my insistence that people should say precisely what they mean rather than almost what they mean, than over directness.

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