I'm not sure if this is a cultural phenomenon, or something related to individual traits. Many don't realize there is a difference between being frank, and being brutally frank. One can be frank and honest, yet convey their thoughts in a refined, politically correct manner that targets the problem to be solved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties involved. However, I come across many Indians (I may be wrong) who literally speak their mind out and hurt people, or put their foot in their mouth with a politically rude/incorrect remark, when they attempt being "frank". Their remark takes the attention away from the core problem. In a professional setting, it is embarrassing when you see people do this time and again, albeit in a harmless fashion. It is even more bristling when some others inquire if this trait is cultural. Although my first reaction was to argue that this was just yet another personality trait, further thought has made me wonder if the roots are indeed cultural.
Before people start pouncing and tearing at me, let me clarify. I am not stereotyping. My thoughts are probably shaped from the experiences I have had while growing up in my city, neighborhood, and family. I welcome your thoughts to broaden my perspective.
In my family and the place I grew in, people usually refrained from direct confrontation. Maamis and uncles are astute in the sly game of subtle slights, and indirect comments and allusions. The receiving party either broods in the hurt, buries and nurses the grudge, retaliates in an equally cheeky manner, or complains and gossips to the so-called sympathetic "friends". A disagreement is never resolved in a direct, honest fashion. Due to the game of indirect and behind-the-back gossips and repartee, even a small and inconsequential disagreement builds up and blows out of proportion after years of accumulated grudges. When people eventually confront - the scene is pretty nasty. People will be frank - but crassly so. This is the model of "frankness" we build in our head.
Culturally, we are taught to not be rude, or speak up to "elders". However politely we address concerns to "elders" or even neighbors, the fact that we open up a problem so directly and expect a solution, is taken as an affront. The norm is to let the problems fester till it cannot be tolerated anymore. Basically, we are brought up to be coy and "nice" (often by faking it), and have little training in being honest and direct.
Here comes the problem. When we are put in an environment where people are painstakingly politically correct AND direct, we poor people are lost. We realize the need to be direct, but we have no training, and no clue on how to present and word our direct remarks in a polite, constructive manner. Unfortunately, to us, direct means rude and blatant. And that's how we spit out our words, and claim on being "frank".
I admit that even I have been tongue-tied in the past. I have taken hours to compose a tough email. I would marvel and collect professionally worded emails that demanded improvements, out-rightly rejected, or addressed an important concern with the party's work, with such polite and honest flair. I tried to fit it all into a formula so that I could assimilate it, and emulate it (for instance, talk of the positive aspects, the potentially positive aspects, then mention the unpleasant in a direct but polite manner). But diplomacy cannot be squeezed into a formula. It is a gradual cultivation of your thought process, speech, and mannerism.
Smooth-talkers are blessed indeed. And I realize there are Indians who are savvy and glib speakers, as there are Americans who are rude and blunt. But, I'm not sure if my experience with the role played by culture has any influence on most people I see straining their professional relationships. If so, I'm wondering if we need to hold a special orientation on diplomacy and political correctness.
Or, as many are bound to say, let's not bother about the fluff, and keep calling a spade, a spade, and not care a hoot about the relationships soured and severed.