Feedback Across Cultures

Culture dimensions 

Culture dimensions – the differences in ways that various cultures approach various aspects of life. Usually, cultures are spread across a given dimension – some are closer to one end, others to the other. Very few cultures are 100% on one or the other side of the scale.

Feedback and communication are two separate dimensions.So, how does it look like in case of communication?

Low-context vs. high-context


How to recognize low-context cultures?

  • They are direct in their communication.​
  • Additional aspects of the situation do not seem very important to them.​
  • It is always clear who is speaking and what is the stage of the conversation.​
  • They are rather clear about what they are and what they are not able to do.​
  • They act according to clear instructions – if the instruction is ambiguous, they will wait for clarification.​

How to recognize high-context cultures?

  • There are certain rituals regarding typical answers in several circumstances.​
  • It is important, who has said something, how it was being said, in what circumstances and what has not been said.​
  • They will not always tell you that they are not able to do something, but they will always let you know in some way if something is possible or not.​
  • Based on an unclear instruction, they guess what the author had in mind.​
  • They are very careful as it comes to relationships – they try not to offend anyone. ​

High & Low context vs Feedback

In high-context cultures feedback is NOT always indirect.

And the oppsite – in low-context cultures feedback is NOT always expressed directly.

These are two separate dimensions!


Direct & Indirect Feedback


Direct feedback:

  • „I” have problem with „you.
  • High focus on the task
  • Feedback often comes in an e-mail
  • Direct language
  • Clarity of the message is crucial

Indirect feedback:

  • The problem is „our” issue
  • Focus on relationship
  • You only give feedback in person
  • Indirect language
  • „Face-saving” is important

Language traps

When you use a second language at work you may meet some difficulties or challenges. Sometimes we don’t understand something, or we don’t know how to communicate it. We make loan translation (calques). Sometimes it is the case that even though we all use English we are actually speaking another language.


How to speak „the same language


When you listen​:

  • Pay attention and really listen​
  • Repeat back what you heard ​
    • In other words​
    • What I heard you say was​
  • Summarize​
    • So let me summarize ​
    • So what you want me to do is​
  • Ask back & clarify​
  • Be patient


When you speak​:

  • Adjust to the audiance​
  • If you have doubts – ask back for understanding​
  • Repeat if asked – try to use different words​
  • Ask back… especially if you hear „aha”​
  • Pay attention to non-verbal clues​
  • Be careful with humor & sarcasm​
  • Be patient​


How to prepare to give a cross-cultural feedback

  1. Do your homework
  2. Build good working relationships with people
  3. Tune in to your team’s cultural preferences
  4. Clarify expectations if you’re unsure
    1. I want to make sure we work well together and don’t miscommunicate. Would you share how you most like to give and receive feedback?
    2. What are some things that are important to you when it comes to communication and collaboration?
  5. Adapt to different communication preferences and build a feedback system that works for both parties


Tips for working with those preferring…


Direct negative feedback

  • Do not try to do it like them, if your cultural background is less direct.​
  • Avoid using upgraders or downgrades, be as clear as possible.​
  • Tell them what is your way of giving feedback (so that they know how to read it).​
  • Feedbak in an e-mail or via a chat is acceptable

Indirect negative feedback

  • Be aware that if you are too direct, they may feel offended.​
  • Balance the negative and positive feedback.​
  • Sometimes just focusing on the positive parts brings the recipient’s attention to what he/she should think of as negative.


How to make sense of it all?


Most people are more likely to inform than ask. This is why they never find out what is really going on. Too often they base their decisions on insufficient oninappropriate information.​ – Marilee Adams, PhD​, founder of the Inquiry Institute



If you want to learn more about this topic, check the full webinar: Feedback – Cross-Cultural Way


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