Communication styles: directing and informing

Amongst many other details when it comes to relationships and communication, it’s useful to be aware of the difference between two basic ways to express a wish or a request: directing and informing.

Directing style expresses a wish, a request or a demand directly: “Shut the window”, or more gently: “Shut the window, please”, “Would you mind shutting the window?”, or even, “Maybe you could shut the window?” Regardless of all the added courtesies and mollification, the request is still clear and unambiguous.

Informing style is descriptive and indirect; it gives information in which a suggestion or a wish is implied as a possibility, for example: “It’s too noisy in here with the window open!” Informing people prefer to motivate than to express expectations.

Needless to say, the difference between these two communication styles can often cause misunderstanding and frustration. An “informant” might ask, “Would you like an ice-cream?” when it’s actually they who would like an ice-cream. “Directing” people might not understand the embedded wish, so if they say, “No”, the possibility of compromise might be lost. “Informing” people then might hear “No” as a refusal of their own wish, rather than a statement of personal preference by a “directing” person.

People who use directing style might simply not notice when a request is expressed in an informing way, which might make the other person feel ignored or dismissed. If they do recognize the embedded request, “directing” people might perceive it as manipulative, passive-aggressive or even victimy. They prefer to have clarity: first, is it a request? Second: what kind of request it is? Third, how important it is? They can find informing style way too … uninformative.

“Informing” people, on the other hand, might perceive directing style as bossy, especially if used without “please” or “would you”. They might feel that such a style gives more importance to a request than to people, which is what they wish to avoid. This is not how “directing” people perceive it; for them, it’s all about clarity.

Another example of communication used by “informing” people might be “Did you… ?” instead of “Would you… ?” For example, “Did you pack a bottle of juice?” instead of “Would you pack a bottle of juice?” A “directing” person might again be frustrated with the implication of unexpressed expectation.

I remember a conversation quite a long time ago, when a friend of mine said she preferred to imply a wish indirectly, so if other people wanted to refuse it, they wouldn’t have to say “No” directly, which might feel uncomfortable to some. I replied that I preferred to know if there was a wish at all, instead of wondering what was implied. A “directing” person might not recognize that the ambiguity is meant as courtesy and might even perceive it as lack of integrity. This is one of the reasons why, when working with couples, we repeatedly warn people: “Presume good intentions!

On the other hand, “informing” people can sometimes misunderstand a simple information as an embedded request, even when there is no request. This is understandable – if we use a certain communication style, we expect other people to use it too. This can be frustrating for such people if they feel they cannot fulfill the request or even understand it. If such a person is a man receiving an information from a woman (for example, when a woman just needs to vent her emotions), confusion and frustration can be even more pronounced, considering that men often have an urge to “fix women’s problems” (I’m not sure how it works with homosexual couples!) The person who gave the information might then be confused and frustrated that the information was understood as an indirect request when it wasn’t meant to be.

There is no “good” or “bad” here (although personally I definitely prefer clarity!). It’s important to recognize and appreciate these two communication styles, instead of blaming other people for using a different one than you. All by itself, this little difference probably doesn’t mean much if a relationship is good, but it can act like “fuel on the fire” if a relationship is already in a mess.

3 thoughts on “Communication styles: directing and informing

  1. In my view, what you call “informative style people”… you put too much tolerance to that. Saying “Would you like an ice-cream?” in an attempt to have an ice cream is not only ultra polite, but it is a way how to avoid responsibility of decision – in this case having an ice cream.
    If the weather goes bad, shop will be closed or anything, the “polite” person has an opportunity, expressed or not, to blame the other one who made a decision. I see this type of communication of worst thing for relationship perspective. It has nothing to do with courtesy, it is a way for excuses, manipulative and childish. Courtesy can be expressed in many other ways… as you wrote. And another result of this ultra jin behavior is that as it push the other person to make decisions on behalf of another adult person, it may and it should make that person angry… which may and should not trigger the jin person to be even more jin. Thus it is a vicious circle and there is one simple way to break it: Demand from adult person to make their own decisions and express it with responsibility and courtesy. Thus answering “NO, thanks” to the ice cream question is the best.
    See you soon, stay tuned, bye :)

    1. Thanks Samo. It’s true that informative style is often abused as manipulation, and this is exactly how I used to see it. However, I learned that potential for manipulation doesn’t necessarily mean there is intention to manipulate. Now I focus on recognizing and checking the intention behind specific communication. Some people use informative style out of habit they learned in their families, or they really believe it’s the more laissez-faire approach. It’s easy to automatically presume manipulation, but it’s better to give it the benefit of the doubt. If I didn’t do that, I would have to kick some good people out of my life. :)
      “No, thanks” is just fine, though.

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