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Communicating: Being direct and correct


Two differences that may play a role in communication challenges include: (1) directness and (2) correctness




Direct vs. indirect communication


A person uses direct communication when they say explicitly and plainly what they are thinking or what they want you to do.


For example: “Can you go to the store to buy 2% milk?” This tells you (the listener) that the person wants to know if you can go to the store and buy the milk.


A person uses indirect communication when they do not explicitly or plainly say what they are thinking or want you to do. Rather, they use gestures, body language, and tone of voice to provide cues to what they want.


For example: ”We are out of 2% milk.”

This only tells you that there is no more milk. Yet, there is the indirect (and unspoken) query that asks, “who is going to get more milk?”


This can lead to challenges because some neurodivergent thinkers do not “hear” the indirect query AND many neurotypical people use indirect communication to make requests.  This can = confusion, distress, and conflict!


Why do neurotypicals use indirect communication? Indirect communication allows the person to adjust their message based on how the other person responds.Many people like to avoid conflict, and if they make an indirect request, they can easily adjust the parameters of the request to avoid conflict if the person they are talking to has a negative reaction.


For example, the listener may reply, “I can’t grab the milk today, my car is in the shop”


Thus, indirect communication can prevent missteps, conflicts, and even miscommunications.  The speaker can reply based on how the listener responded.


For example, they can say, “I was just letting you know in case you need milk. I’ll grab some later today” to avoid a conflict.


Being able to use and read indirect communication requires you to  attend to and read body language, subtle word choices, and look for nonverbal indicators


A person uses direct communication when they say explicitly and plainly what they are thinking or what they want you to do


Example 1: Marie says ”Yes, lets go to that movie” while smiling when you ask her to see Star Wars

Example 2: Steve says “Jane wants that report by end of day today” while delivering a curt nod



A person uses indirect communication when they do not explicitly or plainly say what they are thinking or want you to do. Rather, they use gestures, body language, and tone of voice to provide cues to what they want


Example 1: Marie looks away and says “Oh yeah, maybe we could see that one. Or a different one” when you ask her to go to Star Wars


Example 2: Steve says “Jane is looking forward to seeing that report” as he points several times down on the desk and opens his eyes wider


Through using indirect communication, Mary is not directly telling you that she doesn’t want to see the movie you suggested.


She is hoping that you pick up on the indirect cues she is using and figure out that she is really saying “no” (the use of oh yeah and maybe and the suggestion of a different one).


In the second example, Steve is telling you that the report is due by using the words looking forward to seeing while tapping several times and opening his eyes big.


If you find yourself in such a situation and think that the person may be using indirect communication, ask for clarification:


”Is there a movie you would rather see?”


“When would Jane like to have the report?”




Correct versus Right


Another area that can lead to conflict for neurodivergent folks is the difference between being right and being correct


Thought experiment: Have you ever had to do a forced choice test where you are only allowed to pick one answer? For example:


I prefer the theater over museums      True      False


How would you answer this question?

One person may struggle to answer this question because there is not enough information. For example, what type of theatre? Is it a stage play, musical theatre, or the cinema? And what type of museum is it? Cars, airplanes, gopher museum?


There are too many unknowns to provide a confident answer.


Another person may more easily pick an answer based on their own law of averages. That is, in general, they would think to themselves, ’I like theatre this much (say 30% because they assume its stage theatre) and I like museums this much (say 60% because they are thinking of the dinosaur museum they went to). Based on this process, they would pick …. Museum because of their average experience of the examples they picked to represent each category.


Who does this and what are these patterns called?


When we look at the patterns in making a choice, we can label them as being correct versus being right


Being correct means free from error.  For example, the earth is round


Being right is stating something that has the possibility of having an error. For example, this colour is too bright. This may be more or less true depending on the person who is asked


In this way, being correct is being factual whereas being right is more of an expression of opinion based on an average of the persons experiences


People who prefer to use the cognitive process of “being correct” (more likely to be neurodivergent) often encounter challenges when communicating with people who prefer to use the cognitive process of “being right” (who are more likely to be neurotypical).


If a neurotypical person shares information that is right, a neurodivergent person may want to correct their information if it is incorrect, because being factual is important


This can lead to conflict because the neurotypical person may feel that you are trying to show that you are smarter than them (which most will very strongly dislike) and will react negatively (‘why do you always have to be right?’).  This is not usually viewed as helpful (and can be viewed as rude)


If on the other hand, a person who prefers to be correct is provided with information to correct their error, they are generally receptive to this, because again, they want to be as correct as they can be


What can you do? Be mindful of the person you are talking with.


Are the open to corrections? If yes, do so.


If they are not open to it, stop and think before correcting.


This is especially important if you value that relationship. You could instead say, ’I’ve been reading up on that and have some information that might be helpful if you want.” If they say ‘yes’, share. If they say ‘no’ or ‘that’s ok’, don’t share. Just move on.


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