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Intercultural feedback – A challenging task

Feedback is important for employees to get to know their strengths and weaknesses, to clarify areas of improvements as well as possible next career steps. So for companies an open feedback culture is a strategic business instrument and it is advisable to give some attention to ensure successful feedback-procedures. This is especially important when having in mind that feedback is getting more important for the upcoming generations of employees.

In giving and receiving feedback a lot of difficulties may occur and mistakes can be made. That is why companies spend a lot of time in creating successful processes for feedback and in standardizing them. To ensure an open, equal and successful feedback global companies often implement the same feedback-procedure worldwide.  At the first glance this is a useful approach as fairness is an important issue concerning feedback in companies – especially when benefits are linked to the appraisal. But – is it really fair and useful to use the same approach in every culture?

Looking at some research about cultural differences it quickly becomes clear that it is not possible to treat employees from different cultures in the same way – while expecting they are responding in the same manner and the feedback will end up in the same results everywhere. For example the well known research from Geert Hofstede, who discovered various cultural dimensions in his survey: Power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance and long-term orientation. Comparing an employee from a very individualistic culture, like the United States or Germany, and for example a Chinese employee, whose culture is much more characterized by collectivism, it can be assumed that an individualistic feedback – which emphasizes the personal success and failure – is more difficult to accept for the Chinese colleague as he is possibly afraid of losing face. This dimension is also related to so called high-context and low-context cultures. The communication styles in these cultures are different: In high-context cultures the context of the communication (like for example the speakers voice, facial expressions and gestures) is far more important than in low-context cultures, in which the communication style is much more linear and fact-oriented. That is one reason why cross-cultural feedback discussions could be difficult, lead to misunderstandings and even be counterproductive concerning the goals of the feedback. That makes a good preparation of this challenging task necessary and it is advisable for leaders to train their empathetic skills to successfully give intercultural feedback.

What experiences do you have with intercultural feedback?

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