Feedback in a multicultural context : A gift or a slap?
Giving feedback is very often a sensitive topic. It can quickly turn into a drama when it deals with a multicultural organization.
Let's think about this quadrant in the process com rule:
Referring to the famous book “Cultural Map” from Erin Meyer and my own multicultural professional experience abroad, here some piece of clue, not to consider all in one magic stick nor exhaustive:
Quadrant A : Explicit communication, short, crisp, transparent messages are valorized in those cultures in low-context. Easy to decode, people from those cultures give feedback without any subliminal messages but considering your capacity to take any feedback as it is with professionalism and gift to improve ourselves. Example : Working with Germany and Netherlands for a while, they don’t wait for any conflict to give a feedback and like pragmatic feedback.
Quadrant B : For this part of population, they have got the ability to listen and speak with finess, between the lines, using irony and subtext. Yet give sharp and direct feedback specifically when it comes to criticism. Could voice strongly their opinion, being perceived as a judgment or harsh criticism. Those cultures could be as really gentle and polite as rude, up to emotional interference in the high context. Thinking about France, Italy, Russia or Spain.
Quadrant C : Example of US or Canada. If there is an elephant in the room, those populations will point it out. Feed-back will be provided with an indirect manner, very subtle in a low-context. Negative stuff could be given in a joking or friendly way. They would soften negative messages transmitted by positive counterpart. This mode of feedback could be perceived as false and confusing, exagerating. On the contrary, the positive communication could be a fuel of energy and encouragement for a whole team. “Excellent, don’t give up. A pillar for the team, etc..!”
Quadrant D : Among those cultures, negative feedback is soft, subtle and indirect. Given in private in high-context. Giving a negative feedback in public could be perceived like a humiliation for those people. Example of Latin America or Asian countries like China or India. Main rule is to keep any individual positive or negative comment in private, given with blurriness, gently and gradually if it requires changes. Ad to keep public feedback only if it concerns the whole group.
To the question “what can we do in front of those cultural differences?”, I would answer to stay humble and listen, observe, not to imitate fiercely but to respect the culture, not to judge but to explain how we could process differently. To recognize also those individualities as a strength for the organization.
Communication with respect, open-mindedness and constructive purpose is a key.