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When working in multicultural teams be careful how you give feedback

09 Oct 2018

Lequin work with many multi-cultural teams and all too often we see a breakdown in communication within these teams due to misunderstanding of different cultures and different ways in which they give feedback, communicate dissatisfaction, and the way they manage and lead.    

Edward Hall's 'Cultural Context' model is a useful tool to show why misunderstandings occur.  His model illustrates that certain countries - high context countries - layer greater meaning in and around an event than those of lower context countries, therefore lower and higher context countries require different approaches to successfully manage.

Low-context countries 

In low-context countries like the US, communication is:

  • Explicit – clear, linear and verbal
  • Context not important
  • Thinking-focused
  • Results-orientated

When dealing with clients/people from these countries, here are some tips:

  • Answer emails, letters quickly
  • Call clients back straight away
  • Be concise
  • Expect confrontations
  • Deal with facts
  • Structure your messages

High-context countries

Communication is implicit – indirect, non-verbal communication

  • Context is everything
  • Feeling-focused
  • Relationship-orientated

When dealing with clients/people from these countries, here are some tips:

  • Avoid direct yes or no questions
  • Be patient
  • Remain open to alternative solutions
  • User qualifiers such as ‘maybe’, possibly, etc

Direct - indirect feedback

Erin Meyer builds on Hall's model by adding the element of direct/indirect negative feedback. Her recent book, Culture Map, talks through some wonderful examples of the ways in which different cultures tell you when they're unhappy with performance or a service. The French for instance, while being a high-context communicator with subtle uses of language, are very forthcoming when it comes to voicing their dissatisfaction, while in China it is what is not said not what is said, that is important. And the situation in which feedback is given differs - in Germany criticism is given in public, while in Japan it is done in private. 

Lequin have run many workshops for clients to help their people better understand different cultures and how to work more effectively with Germans, French, British, and many other countries.

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