Working with international freelancersworking with international freelancers is a great way to get quality work done at a good price. They are often well-educated, dedicated, and eager to do favorable work.

But I would venture to guess that you don’t typically get a lot of feedback on your work, projects, and processes from them. It may be that they have nothing to say, but it may also be that you just aren’t listening very well.

Imagine this scenario:

Mike: Ramya, how are the new layouts coming?

Ramya: Pretty well, Mike. I was a little unclear on what to do with the brochure, but I think it is ok.

Mike: Great to hear, I’m sure it’s fine. Listen, I’m thinking about redoing our logo again as well, time for a fresher look.

Ramya: Oh, really? Did you not like the one we did six months ago?

Mike: No, that one was good, but we need something a little more modern now.

Ramya: Ok, Mike.

If you aren’t careful, you won’t see anything wrong with this dialogue. However, Ramya is giving feedback to Mike that he did a poor job of guiding the brochure, and also that he is changing his logo too soon. She is not likely to come out and say these things, so Mike has to learn how to pick up on them.

Some call this indirect communication. This is a way to send and test messages with the meaning hidden behind the words. Here are three ways you can listen better in indirect cultures:

1. Listen to What is Said

The words “could” or “may” are common ways to express doubt. If your freelancer says something “could” work in response to your idea, there is a good chance he has some major misgivings.

One way to give a negative answer in indirect cultures is to talk excessively. Therefore, if you find your freelancer giving an extended answer to a direction question, he or she probably disagrees, especially if there are a lot of conditions added on such as “…we’ll see” and “…if you give me specs on time.”

2. Listen to What is Not Said

If you ask for feedback on an idea and get a feeling that someone hasn’t answered the question clearly, you have your answer. (It’s a no.) A hesitated or delayed response also would show disagreement.

If she immediately turns the question back at you (“What do you think?”), then she may be testing the waters because she isn’t sure what you feel about the issue. She doesn’t want to directly disagree with you. Silence or no response to an email might also indicate differing views.

3. Listen to the Body

Take the chance to have media-rich interactions with your freelancers including video calls. This will allow you to observe their body language and notice if anything is out of the ordinary. Things like smiles, giggles, and head wobbles might mean something totally different, so don’t assume you know the meaning for every interaction.

Many people think that if someone disagrees, he or she will say something. However, in some cultures individuals are taught that he or she shouldn’t say anything if he or she disagree with a supervisor. Having a healthy team of freelancers means being able to pick up on their clues and learn from their input.

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Neil Miller is the author of How to Avoid Dying in India, and writes weekly articles for professionals working with India on

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