Communication Contrasts

Instead of conducting a roleplay, this activity requires teams of participants to script and act out a play. By encouraging the participants to incorporate cultural differences in the dialogue, this activity is particularly powerful for exploring different modes of communication.


Ask different teams to stage dramatic segments incorporating the key differences between direct and indirect communication. Ask one of the teams not to produce a play but evaluate other teams' plays.


To compare direct and indirect modes of communication.


  • Minimum: 9
  • Maximum: Any number
  • Best: 16 to 30

Time Requirement

45 to 90 minutes


Direct and indirect modes of communication. One copy for each participant.


  • Timer or stopwatch
  • Whistle

Room Set up

Arrange tables and chairs for each team. Create a waiting area for teams while another team is staging its play.



Brief the participants. Distribute copies of the handout on direct and indirect modes of communication. Ask the participants to scan through the handout and review the differences between the two modes of communication. After a suitable pause, invite questions and comments from the participants. Provide brief responses to the questions.

Form teams. Divide participants into three to five teams, each with three to seven members. Seat each team around a table.

Explain the play-production task. Announce that you are going to produce a 5-minute videotape for training interculturalists about the differences between direct and indirect modes of communication. The task for each team is to prepare a two-act drama for this video and act it out. The first act should portray two people using the direct mode of communication and the second segment, the indirect mode. Announce a 9-minute preparation time. Because of the limited time, encourage teams to identify critical differences in the two modes of communication, prepare outlines for the two acts, quickly rehearse key incidents, and improvise the lines of dialogue.

Explain the evaluation task. The dramatic segment staged by each team will be evaluated along three dimensions:

  1. Authenticity: Is the segment realistic and believable?
  2. Focus: Does the segment emphasize key principles and procedures in the mediation procedure?
  3. Interest: Does the segment attract and maintain audience attention?

Organize a team of judges. Randomly select one of the teams. Explain that instead of playing the role of a drama production company, this team will play the role of a panel of drama critics. Ask the team to come up with a rating scale for evaluating different dramatic segments along the three dimensions that you identified earlier.

Coordinate preparation activities. Explain that the drama production teams and judging team have the same 9-minute preparation time. Start the timer. Let teams work on their own. Give a 2-minute warning at the end of 7 minutes. Blow a whistle at the end of 9 minutes to signal the end of the preparation time. Send all teams except the judging team out of the room.

Stage the first play. Randomly select one of the teams to return to the room and stage its play. Impose a 5-minute time limit and enforce it strictly. Make sure that the members of the judging team are carefully watching the play and taking notes.

Continue the dramas. At the end of 5 minutes, invite the next team to return to the room and stage its play. (The first team can stay in the room and watch the enactment.) Repeat this process until all teams have presented their dramas.

Ask judges to present their feedback. After the final segment, ask the judging team to make its decisions. Invite this team to briefly explain the items in their checklist and to give evaluative feedback for each drama. After the judging team has presented the feedback, ask it to identify the best drama.

Present your feedback. Congratulate the winning team. Give your feedback, focusing on how accurately each team emphasized the key differences between the two modes of communication.


If you have limited time, reduce the number of teams to three (and increase the number of participants in each team). Stage two segments.

If you too many participants, ask several teams to prepare the play but randomly select two teams to stage their plays. Ask members of the other teams act as the audience.

If you have a video camera, record the dramatic segments. Use some excerpts as illustrative samples when you conduct the activity the next time.

Use the Game as a Template

You can use the structure of Communication Contrasts as a template for helping the participants explore a variety of polarized communication modes. Here are some examples:

  • Assertive and accommodative
  • Expressive and subdued
  • Formal and informal
  • Logical and emotional
  • Playful and serious
  • Self-enhancing and self-effacing
  • Status-oriented and person-oriented


Direct Communication

In direct communication, what you see is what you get. People communicate their intent in a clear and straight forward fashion. This is the preferred mode of communication in individual cultures such as U.S. American, Dutch, and Danish.

Here is a list of behaviors associated with direct communicators:

  • Make clear and specific statements.
  • Make it easy for everyone to understand.
  • Tell it like it is.
  • Let the facts speak for themselves.
  • Don’t beat around the bush.
  • Tell their subordinates what, when, and how they want things to be done.
  • Believe that honesty is the best policy.
  • Feel it is okay to say, “No”.
  • Say, “No” or “I don’t know’ whenever appropriate.
  • Attempt to persuade directly.
  • Make points with conviction.
  • Give strong rationale for their statements.
  • Participate actively in discussions.
  • Frequently use the words, should and have to.
  • Focus on tasks and results.
  • Appear to be in a hurry to get the job done.
  • Come across as confrontational.
  • Consider lack of eye contact as deceptive.
  • Consider indirect communicators to be playing games and evasive.

Suggestions for Direct Communicators

  • Slow down and be patient.
  • Use a gentler and softer tone.
  • Be civil, polite, and courteous.
  • Use tact and discretion to be diplomatic.
  • Accept polite excuses and tactful evasions without drawing attention to them.
  • Learn to tell stories and to process other people’s stories.
  • Don’t demand direct and immediate answers.
  • Give time to people to process your questions and come up with responses.
  • Give people time to confer privately with others.
  • Don’t ask, “Why not?”
  • Learn to listen—and to listen between the lines.
  • Gradually ease into difficult topics.
  • Don’t miss out on key information just because it is delivered in a soft tone.

Indirect Communication

In indirect communication, what you manage to see is what you get. In this mode, people camouflage their actual intention in order to maintain harmonious interactions. This is the preferred mode of communication in communitarian cultures such as China, Japan, Egypt, India, and Mexico.

Here is a list of behaviors associated with indirect communicators:

  • Value courtesy, politeness, tact, and diplomacy.
  • Take the path of least resistance.
  • Quietly observe other people and listen to the conversation .
  • Ask open-ended and non-leading questions.
  • Get other people involved in the conversation.
  • Make heavy use of nonverbal elements.
  • Use silence to communicate.
  • Leave sentences unfinished.
  • Offer modest suggestions for consideration.
  • Tell a story and let the listeners draw their own conclusions.
  • Frequently use words like maybe and possibly.
  • Don’t deliver bad news.
  • Say, “It will be difficult” instead of saying “No”.
  • Avoid answering difficult questions.
  • Change the subject to avoid difficult topics.
  • Do not talk about personal feelings.
  • Consider eye contact as aggressive and rude.
  • Consider direct communicators to be blunt and crude.

Suggestions for Indirect Communicators

  • Be assertive when necessary. Recognize your subtle messages may be lost.
  • Be diplomatic but make sure the others understand the implication of what you are saying.
  • Remember, direct communicators respect straightforward statements.
  • Remember, asking questions is not a sign of aggression.
  • Express your true position without softening it.
  • If you cannot answer immediately, answer as soon as possible.