Why won’t they just give me a straight answer?!
Many westerners feel that Indians are always beating around the bush. They never seem to get to the point, and it’s hard to determine if their yes may mean no.
You need an honest opinion about your new marketing plan, and all you get back are smiles and niceties. You are evaluating a team member that you think may be causing problems, but no one will say a bad word about him. You need advice on handling a special high-needs client, but you feel like no one is actually contributing any insights.
How do you get an Indian to give a direct answer?
Ask better questions.
Simply put, if you have trouble figuring out what your counterparts in the East are actually saying, there’s a good chance you are asking the wrong questions.
Here are six ways to ask better questions, and get the ‘straight’ answers you are looking for.
1. Avoid Yes/No questions
Yes/no questions have a right/wrong answer. Your Indian team member will use indirect techniques to figure out which is right, and make sure she gives that one.
Bad: Is the product going to be late? (Obviously the right answer is ‘no’.)
Better: How are these new modifications going to affect the delivery date?
2. Give two safe answers
If you want to hear the honest truth, whether good or bad, you may need to preemptively make the bad answer safe.
Bad: Why did the client back out of the contract?
Better: I’m worried about the quality of our sales team, and I trust your insight. Do you think the client backed out just because of price, or is there more going on?
3. Poll the audience
When you ask a question in the context of a group, you will likely get more honest opinions because they can speak in the third person.
Bad: Do you like Jaya as a manager? (‘Right’ answer is yes.)
Better: How do others in the group respond to Jaya as a manager?
4. Compare and Contrast
Instead of just asking for a quick opinion on a sensitive issue, offer an alternative to compare it against. For example, imagine your Indian partner has a friend who wants to be a vendor for your company. After you receive the proposal you are hesitant, and your partner seems equally so.
Bad: Do you think we should move forward with this? (‘Right’ answer is yes.)
Better: If you had to choose between Company X and this company, what would make you choose Company X?
5. Join the bandwagon
Letting people know they won’t be the first one to disagree makes it easier for them to open up.
Bad: Is this marketing plan going to work? (‘Right’ answer is yes.)
Better: I talked with Lokesh* about the marketing plan and he had some doubts, so I wanted to get your opinion as well. Do you have the same concerns?
*Actually talking to Lokesh is not compulsory to use this technique. #GreyIsWhite
6. Avoid the bulldozer
The bulldozer is the question thrown out at the end of the meeting as a last chance to voice any concerns. While it lets you say you asked for everyone’s opinion, it is the hardest setting for an indirect speaker to voice a concern.
Bad: Is everyone ok with this plan?
Better: I’d like to hear from everyone quickly about one area of concern you have before moving forward.
The answers you receive from these questions will not qualify as ‘direct’ in your old mind, but the better you get at listening and interpreting indirect communication, the more crystal clear the answer you get will seem.
Image Credit: Karl-Ludwig Poggemann on Flickr