This post is a chance to evaluate ourselves and in particular, our communication style. It’s important to start off asking a series of questions. Where did you learn your interaction style? Are you a product of your culture? Are you open to other cultural approaches and if you discovered another approach that is better suited for you, would you be willing to adopt it? Or perhaps you may be open to adopting, what I call, a cultural chameleon approach and thus become familiar and comfortable with a number of communication styles. Details and specifics on “cultural chameleons” can be found in my business (Sales Evolution, HR Evolution) and academic (Student Evolution, Western Culture) books. Cultural chameleons are savvy citizens of the world who have the ability to assess cross-cultural dynamics and then select the approach that is best suited to the global situation.
Let’s start with feedback. There are specific approaches that are socially acceptable for different cultures to employ when delivering feedback. And here are some cultural approaches from around the world.
*And of course, here comes the disclaimer—there are always exceptions to the rule and we don’t want to stereotype. However, we can responsibly generalize about cultural behavior based on values, norms and mores of each culture.
The Harvard Business Review reports:
- Chinese rarely, if ever, criticize a peer openly or in front of others.
- Germans are very up front, honest and straight-forward.
- Americans wrap positive messages around negative ones.
- French criticize passionately and provide positive feedback sparingly.
I have experienced, witnessed and observed each of these cultures and I can attest to the accuracy of the statements. As an American, I am very familiar with our approach. We tend to start and end with a compliment—wrapping our critical message in the center. It is our way of being true to our belief system—direct and honest communication, yet friendly and wanting to “play nice in the sandbox” with other players. The Germans, (along with Danes, Russians and Dutch) are notoriously direct, concise and clear. Retorts like “that won’t work” with little to no clarification are not unusual. Of course this kind of response appears to be overly blunt and somewhat rude to many cultures, including the British who are typically diplomatic (more about the British approach shortly). However, for Germans, being direct is logical. It leaves no doubts and is seen through their cultural lens as honest and efficient. The Chinese approach (as is the Japanese) is very indirect. The Chinese viewpoint is often difficult for other cultural players to discern. The Chinese are avid listeners in a business interaction, but typically reveal little. Making any comment that may be remotely construed as negative towards a client or peer is seen as disrespectful and out of the question. On an added note, there is an entire comprehensive chapter dedicated to the Chinese business approach in my books, Sales Evolution, HR Evolution and Student Evolution. The French have a reputation for being less than positive and in a sense, emotionally withholding and often perceived by other cultures as unfriendly. Unlike Americans who are forthright with support and words of encouragement, the French tend to be punitive and focus on what is wrong with a project versus identifying an endeavor’s strengths.
Of course each of these cultures think their approach is the best—the wonders of ethnocentrism! Think about this: just imagine how uncomfortable a situation can become when some extremely direct (Northern European) communicators and extreme indirect communicating cultures (Asian) sit down to discuss business!
As mentioned earlier, I promised to include the British in on this discussion. The British are very diplomatic, but their seemingly polite approach is often misunderstood. For example, let’s take a hypothetical conversation between a British and German businessmen or women.
The British participant may say “I was a bit disappointed that…” but it will mean “I am very upset and angry that…”. But the German, taking what was actually stated at face value, interprets the remark as “It doesn’t really matter.”
Another example: The British participant may say “Very interesting….”, meaning “I don’t like it” and have it interpreted by the German as “They are impressed…”.
A final example: The British executive says, “That is an original point of view….”, meaning “Your idea is stupid”, but the German senses, “They like my ideas.”
The takeaway from this insight is this: it’s important to understand how other cultures communicate if you are going to interact and succeed in the global marketplace. I hope you enjoyed this post. Feel free to comment and check out my books here. In my very American way, I say to you “Have a great day!”