Indirect Language in Asia

In May of 2010, my first week in Singapore, my manager PB* gave me a friendly warning about communication in Asia.  “Be indirect,” he said.  I have been pondering that thought and occasionally writing about it for a year and a half.  A couple weeks ago PB sat down with me to discuss a variety of aspects of my first Asian tour.  He again kindly and firmly repeating his warning: be indirect.

We all have good days and bad days with email.  In the same week my boss gave me this friendly nudge, a colleague of mine complemented my patient and kind emails.  PB has much more experience in Asian business than this colleague and I put together.  But I could not figure out how one person could think I was writing well while the more Asian-savvy PB saw room for improvement. So I started to mull over what I might be missing.

On this week’s plane flight to Sydney I developed a lead in this mystery. I heard a common flight warning and connected a strange characteristic of Singaporean English with PB’s advice.  I had been laughing to myself about this weird facet of the local English.  But now I realize it is likely deliberate and not something to laugh at.

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