Posted: 21 Apr. 2015 5 min. read

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?

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Endnotes

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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Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Research Lead | Deloitte LLP

Dr. Suz is a social-personality psychologist and a leading practitioner of Deloitte’s Business Chemistry, which she uses to guide clients as they explore how their work is shaped by the mix of individ