Indirectness is not Insecurity

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In her Talking from 9 to 5: How Women’s and Men’s Conversational Styles Affect Who Gets Heard, Who Gets Credit, and What Gets Done at Work (1994), Deborah Tannen asserts that in the communication process, not only words matter, but also the way they are pronounced. The author provides examples of how bald commands and indirect softened instructions influence the working process and are perceived by people. In order to make the communication process more efficient, the author shows how important it is to strike the right balance between the two extremes. The author explains to her readers that the way they communicate must always be appropriate to the situation; also, she speaks about the advantages and disadvantages of both communication styles.

Generally, the text made me feel interested in the issue. Undoubtedly, the communication process is an integral part of our everyday life. Surprisingly, in the majority of cases, the meaning of the words we pronounce is not as important as the way we pronounce them. The person you are talking to pays attention not to the words solely, but to your intonation, manner of speaking, gestures, facial expression, and so on. Another interesting point mentioned by Tannen is that the way we speak also depends on who we speak to. For instance, the way we speak to our parents is definitely different from how we usually speak to our friends and peers. Tannen’s point is essentially important in the working environment, where the effectiveness of employees’ performance depends on how precisely and clearly the manager is able to formulate instructions and goals without sounding too pushy or bossy. Thus, being a good manager is not only about giving commands, but it is also about formulating them so that they are understood right and with a respectful attitude towards the addressee.

In the text, Tannen mentions two extremes in communication styles. The first extreme is when Mark, a manager, uses only bald commands in his speech, softening only a few of them with indirectness. The author gives little explanations of how his manner of giving instructions influences his subordinates and the working process in general. However, it is quite easy to guess. When a manager gives direct commands to their subordinates, it is likely to create a tense atmosphere and lead to employees’ dissatisfaction with their workplace and duties. This, in turn, may lead to poor performance and low morale. Employees may feel that they are not respected or appreciated in their workplace.

The other example provided by the author is about a manager named Kristin who tends to articulate her commands rather indirectly, which is also an ineffective way of communicating with subordinates. The second case is more detailed, as the author provides a tape of a typical conversation between Kristin and one of her subordinates. The author analyzes the tape stating that Kristin overuses softeners in her speech. As a result, she does not sound convincing or confident. She stutters, laughs, repeats and rephrases her idea, while Charles, her subordinate, does not seem to understand properly what she is trying to tell him. She uses “might”, “not sure”, “would” a lot of times through her speech instead of directly telling what Charles must do, which also does not contribute to the image of a confident manager. Moreover, when she gives the final reason for her request, she diminishes herself to make Charles do what he actually must do. Kristin’s style is rightfully called a “soft touch”, as she typically talks this way to all employees. Obviously, if a manager’s style is too indirect and softened, it is likely to create an image of a weak non-confident manager who is incapable of taking decisive steps and giving clear instructions. Generally, employees do not consider such managers reliable and strong; gradually, it leads to lack of respect, subordination, and discipline in the workplace.

In the text, Tannen also mentions another type of communication style between managers and employees, which might be the best option of all. Briefly, this style is used by managers when they say that they do not manage to complete a task and suggest that their employees should complete it in an indirect way. On the one hand, it creates an illusion of choice and provides employees with the chance to volunteer and complete a task at will. On the other hand, employees are highly unlikely to reject their manager and will carry out the task. However, those who are accustomed to being told directly what to do might consider this communication style rather manipulative, as the choice given by the manager in this case is illusive. Also, they may consider this style illogical and inappropriate. At the same time, this approach will be appreciated by those employees who cannot stand bald instructions and commands. Of course, it is quite clear that this manner of giving instructions just seems to give employees a chance to choose. On the other hand, though, it shows that the manager respects employees and does not command directly, in spite of being entitled to doing so.   

In the working environment, it is pivotal for managers to choose the right communication styles with their employees. What may work with one employee, may not necessarily work with other employees. In the text, Deborah Tannen provides examples of three different styles that can be applied not only in the workplace, but also in our everyday life. It is up to us to decide which style is the most appropriate in a given situation.  

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