Here's another example in our comic series of how communication differs across cultures. In this case, a conversation with a friend of mine sparked the idea. He mentioned his manager had given him the following constructive feedback in one of their performance evaluations:

Whenever the manager would ask him to do something, my friend would simply say "yes, I understand", or ask clarifying questions as necessary.

The manager, having worked with a primarily US American workforce, was not used to this approach. She expected my friend to use repetitions, reframes, re-wording, and more elaborate assurances to show he had understood and was indeed up to the task.

Once she explicitly suggested he use these communication methods to signal to her that he understood what was expected, the real conversation began.

"Thank you for telling me this," my friend said. "I wasn't aware of it before. This is probably a cultural difference between our two communication styles."

"How so?" asked his manager.

"I have several years of experience in this field. And we have been working together for a while now. So, when you are asking me to do something and I know what's required, I don't see the need to repeat it back to you."

"OK," said the manager. "But could you try to use some reframes anyway please?"

"Well, to be honest," replied my friend, "that would make me feel as if you mistrust my competence. Let me ask you this: have I ever given you reason to doubt I understood what was needed? Was my work output ever of unacceptable quality or faulty in any way?"

"No, no it wasn't."

"Maybe we can agree on a compromise: you will let me know the minute something isn't done correctly or as you expected, and I'll be sure to ask those clarifying questions and repeat back if it's something new or unclear."


How are instructions and feedback usually handled in your cross-cultural working relationship? Does this sound familiar to any of you? How are you handling the differences?

Thanks to Stuart Miles for the free pic!