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.