Direct or not, which is best?

Direct or Not, Which is Best?

Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.
I do,’ Alice hastily replied; ‘at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.’
Not the same thing a bit!‘ said the Hatter.
– Alice in Wonderland

Do YOU say what you mean? If you’re a Driver, chances are you probably do—Drivers tend to be direct and are unlikely to shy away from confrontation. If you’re an Integrator, well… you may mean what you say but not always say it directly—Integrators lean towards diplomacy and usually avoid confrontation. But does it matter? And if it does, which approach is best? As usual, it depends…

There are some very clear benefits of directness and sometimes even of conflict. For one thing, directness is efficient. Speaking directly allows one to deliver a message quickly and to ensure that the message is clear, which benefits both the speaker and the listener. This is an important point for Integrators to consider, because they may avoid speaking directly out of consideration for their listener’s feelings. But a direct message can actually make things easier for the listener by removing the burden of having to interpret the message before they can process and respond to it.

Moreover, directness can help teams avoid Groupthink, a phenomenon characterized by subpar decision-making that results from an extreme desire to maintain harmony and avoid conflict. Since effective decision-making requires critical evaluation of various options or perspectives, team members must be free to state their opinions and to disagree with one another. In fact, research shows that cognitive or task-related conflict, that is conflict that’s focused on the tasks of the group, can actually make teams more creative and productive.1

Integrators should keep this in mind if they’re feeling uncomfortable about confrontation amongst team members.

But the benefits of directness aren’t an excuse for saying whatever you want whenever and however you want to say it. There’s a real risk of damaging consequences associated with not considering how a message will come across or even whether the message itself is appropriate.

While cognitive or task-related conflict can make a group more creative, conflict that gets personal, otherwise known as affective or interpersonal conflict, can shut down creativity.2 Even the benefits of cognitive conflict have been found to depend on an environment that feels psychologically safe to team members. In other words, they need to be confident that taking the risk of sharing their thoughts won’t be punished with personal criticism.3

To keep all members of a team working at top capacity, Drivers need to consider whether their directness is focused on the task at hand or targeted at the person they’re speaking to. Might it feel like an attack? Even task-related comments that are delivered with too much force can affect the sense of psychological safety needed to put people in the creative zone. So, say what you mean, but not without considering its impact on others.

Direct or not, which do you think is best?

Dr. Suz

Suzanne Vickberg, PhD (aka Dr. Suz)
Dr. Suz is the LCC’s very own social-personality psychologist, which means she studies how people’s thoughts, behaviors and preferences are influenced by both who they are and the situations they’re in. She uses Business Chemistry to help teams explore how the mix of perspectives brought by their individual members influences their work together. Follow her on Twitter @DrSuzBizChem

1 Nemeth, C.J., et al. (2004). The liberating role of conflict in group creativity: A study in two countries. European Journal of Social Psychology, 34, 365-374.
2 Amason, A.C., et al. (1995). Conflict: An important dimension in successful management teams. Organizational Dynamics, 24, 20-35.
3 Bradley, B.H., et al. (2012). Reaping the benefits of task conflict in teams: The critical role of team psychological safety climate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 151-158.

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As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte Consulting LLP, a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.

13 thoughts on “Direct or not, which is best?

  1. I love the comment about being direct doesn’t mean saying what’s on your mind. I’m guilty of just letting my mouth engage before my brain catches up sometimes and it really takes away from the point you are making if you have to apologize for insensitivity. This article really helps me frame how I want to be direct with different working styles (i.e. my approach with a driver would be quite different than the integrator). I like it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so helpful to take a moment to think about how your behavior, even when well-intentioned, may affect others isn’t it? My tendency is sometimes in the other direction–I might be a bit vague if there’s something I don’t really want to say. But it really helps me be more clear when I think about how the other person has to do the work of interpreting my vagueness and THEN deal with whatever unpleasant message I’m trying to deliver.

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  2. I agree that ‘direct’ communication helps cut a lot of ambiguity and effort involved in interpreting what someone said. As also mentioned in the article, is important to consider how the thought is communicated, to have the right, appropriate or positive impact. Different personality profiles may react differently to a direct communication initially, but I think usually people appreciate not beating around the bush. At the same time, I think direct communication might be avoided if the objective is to help someone come to a certain conclusion themselves without pushing them to think in a certain way.

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    1. Ah, excellent point. Sometimes we WANT someone to discover something themselves! A thought to consider here is if it’s someone’s own performance or behavior we want them to reach a conclusion about, certain types–most particularly Guardians–are more likely to spend time reflecting about such things on their own. Other types–especially Pioneers–may need a coach or mentor to ask a few more leading questions in order to get them to spend focused time thinking in that direction.

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  3. So my dear ol’ dad always taught me that when dealing with people the operative word is effective and not efficient. While being direct can create an initial sense of efficiency on the delivery side it may not always be effective on the reception side. And if it is not effective what then is the point?

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    1. Smart man, your Dad. I think his point (and yours) emphasizes why it’s worthwhile to consider how our messages will be received by those they’re intended for. If I deliver a message in the way that’s most comfortable for ME and that style is not palatable to the other person, they’re unlikely to receive my message. If my listener doesn’t receive my message have I really delivered it? If a tree falls in the woods…

      On the other hand, if I can learn a bit about the other person (like their Business Chemistry type perhaps?) and deliver my message in a way that is comfortable for THEM, I’m much more likely to get the result I want. A bit more work, yes, but more effective and very much worth the effort.

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    2. The older I get, and the less time I have, I appreciate directness more and more. But I agree with your dad…that there is a finesse with being direct and effective. As an integrator, something as simple as the tone in which the direct message is given can make or break my desire to improve my relationship with that individual.

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