Mitigated speech is communication that is deferential or indirect. I learned about it in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. Gladwell defines mitigation as “any attempt to downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what is being said.”
It’s important to understand direct vs. mitigated speech because problems may result (1) if you don’t understand how others are communicating with you and/or (2) if you are not communicating clearly yourself. Extreme example: plane crashes.
A more normal result is frustration and relational conflict. Extreme example: a relational plane crash.
People who communicate more directly can often come across as harsh or too forceful to people who prefer mitigated speech.
Inversely, Gladwell explains that because a hint is the most mitigated form of speech, it’s “the hardest kind of request to decode and the easiest to refuse.” People who communicate with lots of hints often don’t communicate clearly to people who communicate more directly. And the problem compounds if (a) those who prefer mitigated speech are intimidated by those who use direct speech and/or (b) those who prefer mitigated speech really want those who use direct speech to like them and thus try not to say anything that might cause relational tension.
Some relationships could improve significantly if the people understood direct vs. mitigated speech. Consider marriage, for example: Can you imagine what would happen if a husband and wife grew up in families that communicated very differently in this regard? What if the husband consequently tends to communicate very directly and the wife indirectly? When two people communicate so differently, sometimes they misunderstand each other, which may result in unnecessary frustration or offense.
That’s why it’s important to understand direct vs. mitigated speech.
- Matt Perman, “Mitigated Speech and Plane Crashes.”
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- It’s Not about the Nail: a hilarious short video (HT: Denny Burk)