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How to say “This is crap” in different cultures

Follow an extract of the article of Erin Meyer on the Hardward Business Review. It relate about the cross-cultural challenge that a manager was experiencing at work on how to get feedback and suggestions at people in the different cultures, the British versus the Dutch one.

“I had been holed up for six hours in a dark conference room with 12 managers. It was a group-coaching day and each executive had 30 minutes to describe in detail a cross-cultural challenge she was experiencing at work and to get feedback and suggestions from the others at the table.

It was Willem’s turn, one of the Dutch participants, who recounted an uncomfortable snafu when working with Asian clients. “How can I fix this relationship?” Willem asked his group of international peers.

Maarten, the other Dutch participant who knew Willem well, jumped in with his perspective. “You are inflexible and can be socially ill-at-ease. That makes it difficult for you to communicate with your team,” he asserted. As Willem listened, I could see his ears turning red (with embarrassment or anger? I wasn’t sure) but that didn’t seem to bother Maarten, who calmly continued to assess Willem’s weaknesses in front of the entire group. Meanwhile, the other participants — all Americans, British and Asians — awkwardly stared at their feet.

That evening, we had a group dinner at a cozy restaurant. Entering a little after the others, I was startled to see Willem and Maarten sitting together, eating peanuts, drinking champagne, and laughing like old friends. They waved me over, and it seemed appropriate to comment, “I’m glad to see you together. I was afraid you might not be speaking to each other after the feedback session this afternoon.”

Posted in A world of Cultures, Featured, Intercultural Compass, Work In Progress: Management cultures in the world