3 Tips for Giving Effective Feedback Across Cultures

Communicating is tricky enough when you speak the same language and have the same cultural background. Throw in multiple cultural or personality type differences that each add their unique filters, and misunderstandings are bound to happen.

For example, I recently ate at an airport restaurant, and they included a quick feedback form with the check. First of all, I thought that was great timing - no need to fill in name or email, just a few quick anonymous circles.

I automatically circled the second option, since I was happy with everything.

Then I looked at the form and read the statements. They went from extraordinary to excellent to good to fair to poor, and I had a moment of doubt and confusion: I did not think everything was "excellent". 

US-American superlativism in full effect

German scales usually go from "sehr gut" - very good to "gut" - good to "befriedigend" - satisfactory to "ausreichend" - sufficient to "mangelhaft" - bad. I thought the food, atmosphere, and service were "good", but come on - we're still at an airport. 

For everything to be "very good" or top-score, there would have to have been fragrant candles and quiet booths. Extraordinary, or even excellent, by definition would have to go above and beyond the usually possible or expected, e.g. include warm cleansing hand towels, a free bottle of water to take on the plane, and perhaps a neck massage. 

If I had translated the words given on the scale, the visual would have resulted in a middle score.  

How can you translate the feedback you want to give across cultures?  

Tip 1:
Agree what the terms on the scale mean. For me, going from Excellent to Good has at least one level missing in between. A clear definition of boundaries and expectations is essential.

Tip 2:
To avoid score falsification due to translation issues, consider using numbers, and naming the ends of the scale, e.g. 1 = :-) 5 = :-(

Tip 3:

Discuss the feedback whenever possible, particularly if we're talking about performance evaluations. This is the only way to make sure everyone is on the same page. 


Image by Henru Bergius, Flickr, Creative Commons License.