Polite conversation, we can all agree, often involves not calling a spade a spade…the same way you are not supposed to break wind in company. There are modes of obliqueness that keep friendships and relationships going where blunt speaking can very often sunder ties suddenly and violently. People have fragile egos. You have to be careful how frankly you deliver feedback to them. And, in many cultures, an ability to decipher oblique communication is regarded as a mark of high mental rank, even of being well-born. For instance, in my own culture, Yoruba elders say: a well-brought up person only needs half a word; the word becomes whole within him and he acts accordingly.
Not surprisingly, obliqueness is the hallmark of diplomacy. Somebody says something less than intelligent during a meeting and you reply: ‘That’s interesting’ or ‘That’s fascinating’. You don’t commit yourself and, unless they are really paying attention to nuance, they might never know that you don’t think much of the proposal they have just put on the proverbial table. In this regard, I remember that in the course of my legal training, while in the school for barristers and solicitors, we were taught polite ways of disagreeing with a judge without running the risk of ruining your client’s case or ending up in jail because the judge has convicted you of contempt of court.