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When You’re Better off Being Direct or Indirect

Photo by Irina Iriser on | You’ll know why I chose this image later.

I’d have thought that, more often than not, it’s better to be direct. However, there are times when it’s better to be indirect because it allows you to build on something that allows you to better understand what you were originally after. If I’m going to say that though, I may as well share my thoughts on how to tell when one is possibly more appropriate in any given situation.

The Normal and Abnormal

Let’s start with a quote from The Art of War by Sun Tzu, under the chapter of the spirit of the troops, to set the scene for each side,

In battle, the enemy is engaged with the normal and defeated with the abnormal force.

In a more general sense, you’ll only know if something is possible when you try and try again, but you’re more likely to succeed by being smart about it. Alternatively, the determination we show to get somewhere can be considered a direct means to tackling a situation, while the knowledge we have on the matter indirectly supports the cause.

Balancing the Two

If you’ve been around long enough, you’ll know that I tend to emphasise balance and moderation in everything we do. This case is no different. If I want to learn to be patient with the people around me, I have to make every effort to resist the temptation to rush into something and think my actions through, but it’s so vague that I don’t know where to start. When I try and try again, I’ll fail at first. In time though, I have the potential to learn patience through trial and error, through the knowledge I gain as those mistakes happen. Alternatively, I could do my research from the very beginning and get a sense of what’s helped someone to become patient, so I’ve got a clear plan of action from the get-go. Then again, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”, so when I fail, I have to be prepared to try again. When I lack determination, I give up too easily; when I lack knowledge, I don’t only fail at what I do, but I fail to learn from it.

Let’s take another example. You fall out with management at work. Your first and only act is to take to Twitter and complain about it and how it could’ve been better. Everyone might agree with you, what you say might have even been genius, but management didn’t hear it, so nothing actually happens. If they come to hear about what you’ve been saying behind their backs, you’ve created a rift of distrust between you and them, you look weak because you couldn’t bring yourself to talk to them when the opportunity was always right there. On the other extreme, you could try to talk to management directly, but you’re always doing so kicking and screaming because you came to think this was the only way anyone would ever listen to what you have to say. Nobody wants to listen to you like that. Your best bet is to aim to get on better terms with management and the people around you in general, mindful of how you do so.

Seeds of Certainty

All this said, there’s still the matter of my thoughts on how to tell if you’re better off tackling a situation directly or indirectly. For me, I imagine the default is to be direct and try because that’s the only way you’ll see if anything happens or not. You’re indirect when you’re pretty much clueless and need something concrete to go on. Once you do though, being indirect is about how you approach it. It’s like you realise you don’t get anywhere by kicking and screaming, so you first consider how else you can go about it, then you try that and see where you feel like it went wrong, then rinse and repeat until get to where you want to be. There’s this quote attributed to Thomas Edison I absolutely love,

I have not failed, I just found 10,000 ways that won`t work.

Sometimes you find something that works, but like the journey from a seed to a rose, you have to be patient. Until then, you’re going from place to place until the flickers of hope–the seeds of certainty–appear.

Photo by Gilberto Olimpio on | I know I’ve used this image before, but they’re nice images to use that still get the point across.

Assuming you agree, you ever find one approach easier than the other for you? Otherwise, I’d love to hear your thoughts about being direct and indirect in general.


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