How to Persuade People With Indirect Communication

It is important for us to be able to communicate with those around us without having them directly in our presence. This can be a challenge if the person you are trying to persuade has not been exposed to your ideas, but there are ways of making your message more persuasive by using indirect forms of communication. Whether it’s through email or social media, these methods will help sway people from opposing viewpoints and could even lead some into conversionism

Indirect communication is a way to communicate with people that may not be open to your direct approach. This type of communication can be difficult, but there are some ways you can persuade people with indirect communication.

Vintage friends talking sitting outdoors.

Have you ever been to a wedding and had your personal devotion to your wife reinforced even if you weren’t the one exchanging vows with your beloved?

Have you ever been reading a book and came across an insight so deep that your mouth practically dropped and you spent the next few minutes looking off into the distance, taking it all in?

Have you ever attended to a church session when the pastor was speaking to the unconverted members of the congregation, and despite the fact that you already believed, your heart was tremendously stirred?

Have you ever seen a play and come out with a slew of questions, not just about the narrative, but also about how it relates to your own life?

Have you ever had a buddy tell you about an incident that, while they didn’t realize it at the time, helped you figure out what to do about a problem you were having?

You were exposed to a message or an event that wasn’t specifically intended at you in each of these instances. It was overheard by you.

It became much more strong as a result of this.

Direct vs. Indirect Communication and Kierkegaard

What is the most efficient and successful technique to convey a message to others? Specifically, a message on values, beliefs, and vital truths? Most importantly, how can you reach those who don’t want to listen because they believe they’ve already heard your message?

It’s a crucial question for everyone who wants to have an impact on the world – teachers, pastors, parents, and friends who want to share life-altering, soul-sustaining, direction-changing ideas with others but don’t know how.

It’s an issue that philosopher Soren Kierkegaard addressed in his works as well. Kierkegaard was a devout Christian who lived in a nation where Christianity was the state religion. Nearly all of his neighbors were members of the Church of Denmark, thus they were well-versed in Christian doctrine. Although almost everyone could recite the principles of the gospel, few appeared to take the message seriously; they hadn’t allowed it to sink into their sinews and transform the way they worshipped, lived, and, most importantly, behaved toward others.

This lack of enthusiasm for the religion, according to Kierkegaard, was not due to a lack of knowledge; people had the information, but they weren’t using it. The issue, he reasoned, was in the manner in which the knowledge was given, or, more precisely, in the manner in which the information Christians already held was allowed to languish.

According to Kierkegaard, there are two primary sorts of communication, each suited to a certain type of teaching/learning.

Then there’s direct communication, often known as “knowledge communication.” This is the simple transmission of objective information – transmitting cerebrally comprehended and psychologically and academically accepted knowledge. Consider science and its subfields.

Then there’s indirect communication, often known as “capacity communication.” Indirect communication, rather than using objective information, is concerned with everything linked to one’s religious and ethical life — who one is and how one should behave.


Most importantly, indirect communication is about stirring up people’s interior self-knowledge – reawakening them to realities they already know but have forgotten.

In fact, Kierkegaard believed that an overabundance of knowledge may have been the basis for the truth’s submersion in the first place. That is, one can talk about ethics incessantly and read every text ever written about ethical principles without ever beginning to act ethically themselves; one can fully comprehend academic definitions of courage and compassion without ever asking the question ancient philosophers considered most urgent: “How should one live?” Information, according to Kierkegaard, doesn’t always lead to a choice or change behavior, and it’s useless until it gets from one’s mind to one’s heart.

The goal of indirect communication is to bring someone from a cognitive understanding of a concept to a deeper existential awareness of it, not to provide more and more pieces of information. The ultimate objective is to elicit a belief in them that enhances their moral character and motivates them to take action.

This is why Kierkegaard dubbed indirect communication “capability communication”: it’s meant to awaken a person’s consciousness of the possibilities inherent in their existence — to awaken their capacity to live a more virtuous, faith-filled, ethical life.

In a nutshell, the distinction between indirect and direct communication is the difference between comprehending something and truly expressing it in your life; the difference between knowing about something and actually knowing something.

The indirect communicator’s job, according to Kierkegaard, is similar to that of a midwife who assisted in the birth of that shift — a facilitator who, rather than attempting to cram ideas into someone’s skull, brought out and vivified a person’s latent potentialities.

In all he did, Kierkegaard aspired to be this type of truth-discovering midwife. He recognized his way of life as a primary source of indirect communication, and he thought about how everything from his daily routine to the social events he attended or didn’t attend may help or hurt his message. And he used sarcasm, pseudonymity, and comedy in his works in the hopes of eliciting an understanding that wasn’t explicitly presented, but may indirectly contribute to their moral and religious enlightenment.

Overhearing’s Transformative Power

“Many of those who exclaim, ‘Here we go again,’ have never gone before.” Fred Craddock (Fred Craddock)

In more recent years, Fred Craddock, a pastor, professor of preaching, and homiletics pioneer, attempted to understand how Kierkegaard’s indirect technique worked in his works, and how that dynamic might be transferred into oral communication.

Craddock wrestled with the same discovery Kierkegaard had made: that although the individuals he was surrounded by intellectually understood the Christian message, very few of them had been viscerally changed by it. They knew what was going on in their heads, but they didn’t know what was going on in their hearts. As a result, he grappled with the same issues: “How will we communicate in an environment where it is considered that the gospel has been heard and that all that remains is giving additional units of information?” How can instructors and preachers “affect a fresh hearing of the word among people who have been exposed to it repeatedly”?


Craddock discovered the solution in Kierkegaard’s writing style. He observed that reading Kierkegaard’s books gives the impression of listening in on the philosopher’s dialogues with God and with himself; one is left with “the sensation of having strolled into a chapel believing it was empty only to hear abruptly the prayer and praise of a single worshiper.”

In other words, rather of being attacked by Kierkegaard’s message, the reader feels as if they are “overhearing” it.

Craddock pushed for the same type of overhearing impact to be infused into one’s speech dialogue. He advocated for a more open-ended and conversational approach to teaching and preaching, rather than one that was didactic and combative. It functioned more like a Trojan horse than a frontal attack.

Instead of feeling like you’re speaking directly to them, listeners get the impression that you’re just recalling and reflecting while they’re there.

You let listeners draw their own conclusions instead of pointing out the applications of your message.

Instead of beating a pulpit, you float a message that seems like a soft wind blowing and breathing above, as Kierkegaard phrased it.

Instead than attempting to cram your ideas and views into someone’s head, you ask questions to assist them uncover their own.

You recede rather than make yourself the focus of attention in order to aid another’s realizations.

Instead of forcing someone to make a decision, you give them the freedom to choose their own.

Because, as Craddock noted, “humans live in pictures rather than ideas, and human change happens when images conveying profound symbolic meaning are transformed or replaced by others,” indirect communication makes extensive use of tales, as well as rich imagery, analogies, and metaphors.

So that the strain doesn’t become intolerable, indirect communication intersperses moments of fun into a serious debate.

Indirect communication elicits audience involvement rather than requiring it by employing descriptive detail, terminology, and examples that the listener can connect to.

Indirect communication creates distance by speaking in the second and third person rather than the first, and by avoiding direct eye contact; indirect communication is often done side-by-side rather than face-to-face.

Instead of attempting to control events, indirect communication allows them to unfold naturally.

Craddock believed that indirect communication was not merely a notion to construct sermons and prepared statements around, but also something that was reflected in your personal example – that everything you did and said either supported or undermined your message. People are overhearing your life dialogue, even if it seems only remotely relevant to the key values you desire to express, such as hobbies, nutrition, and attire.

And the impact of that dialogue might be considerably more powerful than anything you say. Nothing is more affecting and convicting than being confronted with someone who lives on a higher level, who exudes joy and guileless conviction about things about which you’ve grown cynical, who has found a way to convincingly reconcile beliefs you thought were contradictory — who shows you possibilities for life you couldn’t imagine before or makes you feel your own life is sorely unexamined.


Such meetings arouse the heart and imagination, resulting in the power that allows indirect communication — the transmission of capacity — to function: yearning. The desire to be more, accomplish more, live in a different manner, and to begin taking steps toward that goal.

What Makes Indirect Communication So Powerful?

“The finest thing you can do for your neighbor, apart from stirring his conscience, is to wake things up in him; or, to make him ponder things for himself.” –MacDonald, George

While Craddock and Kierkegaard’s communication philosophies were largely shaped by the problem of how to convert and convict those who had already been exposed to the Christian gospel but had not yet been transformed by it, the principles they developed are applicable to the communication of any important existential or ethical truth. Whether you’re attempting to persuade a buddy to join (or quit) a religion, instill your values in your children, lift a spouse out of a rut, or guide a loved one down a better path, allowing them to hear your message rather than beating them over the head with it is often more successful.

This is why:

The indirect provides the appropriate distance, space, and privacy for the listener to make a choice.

“When sawing wood, it’s crucial not to apply too much pressure to the saw; the less pressure used by the sawyer, the better the saw performs. If a guy pressed down with all of his power, he would be unable to saw at all.” –Kierkegaard

“The direct way is not only ineffective, but also detrimental,” Craddock claims. This is because “direct assaults merely produce resistance, cement defensiveness, and enhance the illusion,” since “an illusion cannot be eliminated immediately.”

The natural impulse is to raise the drawbridge of your mind when a speaker or writer directly questions your views, particularly if they are a competent and effective communicator. When one’s very identity is under jeopardy, it’s natural to want to shield one’s emotions and ideas from being affected and altered. You start looking for reasons to disregard the speaker/writer outright, guessing that he’s hiding something and is definitely a hypocrite, reasoning that his message is motivated by insecurity, or concentrating on things that irritate you about his looks or habits. Alternatively, you may just ignore him and start doodling in a notepad or counting the number of tiles on the ceiling.

When a listener’s views are immediately challenged, as well as when he is confronted with an outpouring of emotion, he will shut down. According to Craddock, although a speaker displaying a little emotion may be very moving, a direct discharge of emotion, ostensibly intended to affect the audience, only serves to make him feel uneasy and uncomfortable:

“Who among us hasn’t been drained and repulsed by direct emotional and intellectual assaults on our faculties, with whatever beneficial consequences that may have been there being absorbed by the communication effort itself?” A direct disgorging of emotion does not duplicate the same sensation in me, no matter how much a speaker pledges honesty, demonstrates compassion, and vows to true care.”


Direct communication, whether in the form of intellectual challenges or emotional outpourings, tends to elicit sentiments of pain, shame, wrath, and general defensiveness in the listener, who has little room to go through and cope with these feelings at the same time. A reaction, a choice, is required under the glare of lights or a loved one’s expectant look; but, rather than analyzing the message, all the listener can think about is their intense self-consciousness.

While speakers may believe that “the urgency and weight of [their] message call for pressing in and pressing down, leaving the hearer no room for lateral movement,” this pressure most often leads to the listener’s full-scale retreat — away from the unpleasant feelings and the person, church, or organization that is causing them.

Craddock claims that distance is “a essential feature of the sensation of overhearing” as a result of this. The distance he is referring to is not the physical distance between the speaker and the listener, but the completeness of the message itself — an independence “that communicates to the listener, ‘You are sitting in on something so important that it could have gone on without you.’”

Consider going to a play or a symphony concert, where the performers are clearly aware of the audience yet give the feeling that they are immersed in their craft for themselves and that the performance has its own life. The efficacy and importance of the rites have nothing to do with parishioners’ attendance; they are overhearing a “conversation” the priest is having with God (especially pre-Vatican II).

Consider the contrast between reading a dusty collection of old letters between father and son and reading a book called Letters to Henry, in which the missives were only written after the publication deal was signed, as Craddock indicates.

Take into account the media you consume as well. Isn’t it true that the more anything attempts to be “relevant” to you and your demographic, the more it tries to make an ad or article headline enticing and sensual, the less you trust it and the less likely you are to click the link? I know that any media that seems to be trying too hard to appeal to me repels me rather than attracts me.

In contrast, the stuff that I find most attractive is that which the author seems to have worked on primarily for his own personal want and interest, with the fact that others would see/read it being a pleasant bonus. The creator seems to be conversing with himself or with God, with the rest of us just overhearing the discourse. And whatever is being transmitted becomes much more potent as a result. “When the artist does not paint for me, the effect on me is stronger,” Craddock says.

Because it enhances the impression of overhearing, this kind of “distance” makes communication so powerful. The listener becomes more open and lets his guard down since he is privy to an event that would have happened with or without him and is not specifically directed at him. The parables that Jesus tells throughout the gospels are an excellent illustration of how this dynamic operates, according to Craddock:


“‘There was a specific man’: nameless, past tense, somewhere, nothing directed to me here.” Relax and take pleasure in the narrative. Then it happens: I’m inside the tale, and the door shuts in my face.”

A communication with its own inherent vitality does not need a response, yet it might nonetheless provoke one. A listener may still feel guilty or accused by a message, but they have the space, anonymity, and privacy to “think, accept, reject, and decide” and are “given room to make the choice about his or her own life,” rather than feeling pressured and yearning to escape.

The listener is engaged and may participate in indirect communication.

The indirect mode of communication’s strength comes from the way it blends distance with engagement. While the two seem to be at odds, the former really strengthens the latter. By providing adequate space and privacy for the listener, he is freed of his self-consciousness and so feels more free to participate in the message.

And, since the indirect communicator does not specify what to do with the message, determining what to do with it becomes a very fascinating process.

Direct communication – the transmission of knowledge — is well-suited for imparting objective information, as previously stated. However, anybody who has ever gone through a physics lesson understands that such communications are seldom engaging. In fact, they are often tedious. Such boredom may be bad, but it is acceptable in scientific courses, where a student must grasp the knowledge, even if it is monotonous, in order to receive a degree.

However, boredom in the transmission of existential truths, in which listeners’ engagement is fully discretionary, poses a serious risk of individuals turning away and tuning out completely. In a wonderful phrase that applies equally to religion as it does to the conveyance of all essential ideas, Craddock emphasizes these stakes:

“Some churchgoers have embraced boredom as one of the sacrifices that comes with dedication, but I can’t.

Boredom is a sort of evil; one of Kierkegaard’s characters may have been more accurate when he remarked, “Boredom is the basis of all evil.” Boredom is a precursor to death, if not a type of death, and even the most holy among us would wish for, pray for, or even create respite, however demonic it may be.

Boring Christian faith communication, whether officially or informally, is not merely ‘too terrible,’ to be brushed over with the customary ‘but he is a genuine guy’ or ‘but she is extremely honest.’ Boredom undermines religion by inducing erroneous beliefs, lulling people to sleep, or enveloping the entire event in a pall of indifference and insignificance.”

Because the listener is only a passive consumer of information, the direct may be tedious. His only responsibility is to agree or disagree with the knowledge that is poured into his skull, or, if it consists only of objective data, to commit these strings of facts to memory.


The indirect technique, on the other hand, does not provide all of the answers to the listener; instead, the message is left open-ended, requiring the listener to discover his own connections and draw his own conclusions. Rather of being spoon-fed ideas or even given helpful suggestions, the hearer is given the duty of figuring out the solutions on his own. And, rather than simply requesting acceptance or rejection, an indirect message is intended to elicit a response comparable to Kierkegaard’s favorite exclamation: “I am undone!”

Overhearing allows the listener to have an experience in which everything he believes he knows falls undone, leaving him with the burden of sifting through his dislodged ideas and putting together a new framework. Rather of being relegated to a passive position, the overhearer becomes an archeologist and a builder, an active participant in the discovery and expansion of their knowledge.

Moreover, since the overhearer enjoys the thrill of discovery and believes he has arrived at an insight on his own, he is significantly more persuaded than if the insight were just thrown in his lap by someone else.

The indirect shows that the listener is respected.

The indirect technique respects the listener in numerous ways by providing distance while allowing for engagement.

First, instead of getting in his face, you respect his space and solitude.

Second, you recognize that you aren’t beginning from scratch with him and that he already has a specific set of skills. You’re not trying to give the listener new information; instead, you’re attempting to awaken him to a new perspective on what he already knows.

Third, you appreciate the listener’s capacity to see things from a different viewpoint and his desire to learn more about reality. Craddock expresses it thus way:

“The listener is revered for having not just the cerebral ability to comprehend what is being spoken, but also the appetites and capabilities to completely live.” For pleasure, anxiety, love, purpose, meaning, and desire for eternity, Kierkegaard appealed to the complete spectrum of human capabilities.”

Finally, indirect communication shows respect for the listener by allowing him to deduce his own lessons and applications from a message without overtly stating them. Of course, the speaker bears the danger that the overhearer may make the incorrect conclusions. However, he is ready to risk a misconception in the short term since he believes that the larger danger is treating the listener like a kid, which would erode his ability to seek and absorb truth in the long run.

When Should Indirect Communication Be Used?

Despite the fact that both Kierkegaard and Craddock pushed for the indirect approach as the main way of expressing ethical and existential truths, neither believed it should be the exclusive means of doing so.

There are instances when taking a straightforward approach is necessary. The indirect assumes that the individual already has knowledge, which only needs to be exposed, awakened, and regenerated. However, if a person is absolutely lacking in this basis, it must be provided directly before the indirect technique can be used.


After the indirect technique has piqued someone’s interest in a topic, they may be more open to direct information that would help them comprehend it better.

Consider the topic of manliness. Since he was a youngster, the ordinary man has been exposed to a plethora of contradicting notions and images about masculinity and what it takes to be a true man, most of which come from his parents, school, and popular culture.

However, all of this knowledge may not be enough to help him realize his full potential or persuade him to start behaving like a man. In fact, it may be counterproductive to such realizations. Instead, such a guy can grow to believe that the concept of manliness is absurd, and that it’s all relative and entirely culturally manufactured.

Reading heated rants against feminism, today’s nancy boy hipsters, and the pathetic pussification of contemporary males would not alter his view in this circumstance. It would also be ineffective to just offer him a copy of The Way of Men and urge him to read it. He isn’t prepared for such a forthright confrontation and would just discard the rhetoric out of hand, looking for ways to criticize the author.

But let’s imagine this man is in need of some tie-tying advice and stumbles across an Art of Manliness essay on the topic, which piques his interest. He begins to read the Art of Manliness on a semi-regular basis, focusing on the recommendations on clothes, exercise, and abilities rather than the philosophical aspects of masculinity. While such postings may not directly transmit manliness, they do provide indirect glimpses of what manliness looks, feels, and behaves like. These pieces pique this reader’s curiosity in what it means to be a guy, not just on the surface, but deep inside. After hearing this discourse about masculinity for a time, he’d be ready and able to contemplate the concepts given forth in our series on the 3 Ps of Manhood, which he’d be pointed to by a friend. After that, he might go through this collection of books about masculinity.

Indirect communication paved the path for direct communication to follow.

While I’ve used this as an example, dividing the periods in which one might employ indirect vs. direct communication creates false differences. In all aspects of communication, you’d want to utilize one or the other side by side; just as light would be useless without darkness, direct and indirect rhetoric are most powerful when contrasted and frequently intermingled. For example, Jesus could use simple parables like sheep and crops to pique people’s curiosity and “tear up the encrusted soil of the religious community’s preconceptions, illusions, and calculations about the kingdom,” as Craddock puts it. “You serpents, you offspring of vipers, how can you escape the sentence of hell?” he might cry.

People sometimes need to be addressed directly and shook out of their complacency and justifications; other times, they only need their hearts softly stirred by a wind conveying the promise of a better path. To have their come-to-Jesus moment (literally or figuratively), individuals sometimes require a piercing jeremiad delivered directly at them; other times, they merely need to overhear a discussion that reminds them of a truth they’ve long known but forgotten.


To know what approach someone needs and when, it takes insight, judgment, and love on the part of your listener. To know when to open your lips and when it’s “better to merely touch the arm and say, ‘Over there lies Arlington Cemetery,’” as Craddock puts it.

To know what approach someone needs and when, it takes insight, judgment, and love on the part of your listener. To know when to open your lips and when it’s “better to merely touch the arm and say, ‘Over there lies Arlington Cemetery,’” as Craddock puts it.


Mark A. Tietjen’s Kierkegaard, Communication, and Virtue

Fred Craddock’s Overhearing the Gospel



Indirect communication is a form of communication that does not involve the direct exchange of information. It is used in many different forms, such as in relationships and with children. Reference: indirect communication in relationships.

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