The fine art of giving and receiving feedback across cultures
“No feedback is great feedback,” a friend explained to me once, talking about his ongoing professional experience in a multinational company.
If you are, perhaps, you come from a culture which encourages feedback in general, emphasizes the importance of positive feedback and treats negative feedback very carefully.
If you rather agree with this statement, probably, as for my friend, a habit of giving and receiving feedback was taught to you as an action of lesser importance. If things go well, no need to over communicate. If things go wrong, a quick correction is needed, therefore, communication should be clear and unbeautified.
Let’s take a look at the definition of feedback.
According to The Oxford English Dictionary, feedback is “Information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement”
A culturally relevant question here is what encourages improvement?
In some cultures, the basis of improvement is believed to be the TRUTH. Therefore, feedback is built in order to emphasize the facts and the “reality” of someone’s performance. Cultures that use this type of feedback privilege honesty, clarity, straight to the point approach. Mistakes are pointed out directly. Open criticism is believed to be the best platform for growth.
In some other cultures, feedback pursues the goal of MOTIVATION. The most important part of feedback is not the evaluation itself but the ways in which a manager can encourage an employee to do more and better. In these cultures, praise and compliments are common practice. Corrections are suggested and delicately wrapped in positivity. The belief here is - the happier a person is after the feedback, the more he or she will be willing to do to get better.
How do people feel about receiving these 2 types of feedback?
Well of course, it depends on where they come from.
If they are from a culture seeking for TRUTH, they would want their manager to tell them exactly what needs to be improved. They would show a stoic attitude if open criticism is given. If feedback is not direct enough, they might feel frustrated and have the impression that their manager is beating around the bush. They can sometimes be suspicious of big rounds of applause, doubting the sincerity of their manager.
If they are from a culture fuelling on MOTIVATION, they would expect their manager to acknowledge and compliment their efforts before receiving recommendations to improve. They would be attentive to the formulation of “negatives”. If feedback is too direct and if encouragement is perceived as not strong enough, their motivation is likely to decrease or completely disappear.
I remember once receiving feedback which started with something like “Thanks. Overall you covered the main points, but…” followed by 2 pages of things that I was supposed to get better at. The question that kept popping up in my mind was - Did I really do things so badly that there was nothing positive to highlight? In fact, the person who gave me feedback didn’t mean to destroy my professional self-esteem. She was willing to give me as much information as possible to be able to progress. She believed in truth. I believed in motivation.
How to give feedback across cultures?
Determine which type of feedback the person you manage needs. You can observe or simply ask a question. It could be useful to discuss feedback practices in your company in a team or individual meeting
Choose the type of feedback you are preparing to give: open direct or indirect?
Write and practice your feedback. If you come from a culture which sees feedback differently, can you make necessary adjustments to meet the needs of your subordinate?
If you are unsure, ask for advice from your colleagues with multicultural experience
Ask for feedback on your feedback. It can help adjust your feedback-giving technique in the future. Remember that not in every culture subordinates are willing to give feedback to their managers, especially if they disagree. However, in some cases you might receive valuable information
What is your experience of giving and receiving feedback?