Giving employee feedback to a culturally diverse workforce

While there are some common rules to giving feedback that we’ve mentioned, there is no set formula. This will become especially apparent when growing a feedback culture in an international work environment or across international offices.

Help your managers develop the skills they need to strengthen your feedback culture in any environment.

1. Do your research

When managers move to a new office abroad, it’s important that they do research on the cultural differences in communication that may exist beforehand. In some cultures being direct with feedback is highly valued, in others it’s considered polite to approach feedback more indirectly. Anthropologists distinguish between cultures that upgrade and downgrade feedback. In some more direct feedback cultures people will actually upgrade the language they use by adding words like “absolutely”, “totally” or “strongly” to make sure their message is received. Conversely, when people downgrade feedback they’ll use words like “kind of”, “a little bit”, “maybe” and “slightly” relying more on understatements to soften the message.

This often creates confusion when upgraders and downgraders give each other feedback. Upgraders are usually left feeling uncertain if the feedback they received was a suggestion or a requirement. Downgraders, on the other hand, are left feeling their work was poor overall. Keep in mind how an upgrader or downgrader might interpret your feedback and find a way of communicating that gets your message across and feels natural.

2. Don’t get too personal

One of the most important things to keep in mind is not to get too personal at work. In some cultures people have a tendency to feel comfortable sharing personal information, even in a work atmosphere. In that kind of environment it can be normal for a manager to ask after their employees’ health, family and even the details of their divorce. In other cultures asking too many personal questions can seem like your boss is prying into your personal life. Instead, keeping a friendly but professional relationship with employees will allow managers to avoid any taboo subjects.

3. Hierarchy

In every culture, even workplace cultures, you’ll find a different sense of hierarchy and relationships between managers, employees and peers. This will make it more difficult to solicit upward feedback in certain environments. In this situation managers will need to work especially hard to establish trust and overcome this barrier. See our forthcoming blog post about building trust between managers and employees for more information.

4. Keep an open mind

At the same time don’t rely too much on the information you read about a different culture. There are of course always exceptions. Instead, keep an open mind and consider the person you’re addressing in particular. To make sure the style you’ve chosen is effective, simply ask. Regularly asking for feedback and getting information about your employees’ level of engagement is a great way to figure out what works best for your team.

There is no right or wrong way to navigate cultural differences, however if you give yourself time to do your research, learn and follow the steps above you will give yourself the best chance at creating a culture that supports your workforce as your grow.

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