Leadership For The Future


Are you giving feedback clearly to staff from different cultures?

As anyone who has worked abroad or in an international setting will tell you, ways of communicating in one country may not necessarily work in another.  There are some surprising and fundamental differences even within Western and Asian cultures that need to be taken into account.

For instance, while the direct negative feedback given by a German boss might seem unnecessarily harsh in America, while an American worker’s enthusiasm might come off as excessive and insincere in Germany.

In Erin Meyer’s recent book “The Culture Map” she looks at eight dimensions which highlight the main differences between cultures.  They are

Communicating – low context vs high context

Evaluating – direct negative feedback vs indirect negative feedback

Persuading – principles vs applications

Leading – egalitarian vs hierarchical

Deciding – consensual vs top-down

Trusting – task-based vs relationship-based

Disagreeing – confrontational vs avoids confrontation

Scheduling – linear-time vs flexible-time

The two dimensions which impact particularly on feedback, namely evaluation and communicating, can leave both managers and individuals bemused as to “what is really being said”.

She quotes the story of a French Finance Director going to work in the USA for an American boss.  Her team, mainly Americans complained to her boss that in the first rounds of interviews she was unduly harsh focussing on the negative rather than any of the positives.   She was taken aback.   Her style of evaluating her team had worked perfectly with her French team.  In her mind she knew the Americans to be “to the point” and direct, but what she didn’t know was that Americans, when it comes to feedback, tend to be over the top with their praise using words like “great”, “fantastic” and, of course,  “awesome”.  On the other hand, when it comes to negative feedback they will dress it up with some positives and even then might put it in writing rather than in a face-to-face meeting.

The same Finance Director had a similar experience when it came to her own performance review.   Her American boss lavished her with praise about the aspects that were going well, but she missed the more nuanced issues about her performance that her boss was trying to tell her.   Fortunately the author, who was the Finance Director’s coach was able to step in and help them work through the communication blocks.

Have you had or are you currently experiencing some communication or performance review challenges?  Perhaps understanding the prevailing culture of the individuals or group you are working with would help you understand their context better.  Please get in touch if you want to talk confidentially about any situation you face.