In today's globalized workplace, providing effective feedback to employees in other countries is essential for success. With over two decades of experience managing international employees, contractors, and agencies, I have learned that giving feedback that is culturally sensitive and clear can be a challenging but crucial task.
My team of remote workers includes web developers, graphic designers, print production specialists, and quality assurance testers, all working together to create award-winning presentation folders, making communication and collaboration across cultures an integral part of our daily work. In this article, I will share some tips on how to give feedback to employees in other countries that utilize language, empathy, patience, and cultural exchange while remaining sensitive to customary differences.
Do Your Homework on Cultural Norms and be Sensitive to Differences in Feedback Styles
Before giving feedback, take the time to learn about the norms and communication styles of the country your employee is from. Specifically, their values, hierarchy, and social customs. Familiarize yourself with how feedback is typically given and received in their culture to avoid accidentally offending or confusing them.
One example to illustrate this point is the difference between Ukrainian and American cultures. A number of my employees live in Ukraine, where the culture leans towards a more indirect and diplomatic approach to communication, including criticism. They often value maintaining harmony and preserving relationships, so it’s key to deliver criticism in a more subtle and nuanced manner to avoid causing offense or damaging relationships. In contrast, my US employees generally provide critique more openly and are usually at ease with receiving candid and direct feedback.
Use Clear and Simple Language
To overcome language barriers, use clear, simple, and concise language when providing feedback. Avoid jargon, idiomatic expressions, or culturally specific phrases that may not be understood by your international employees. Make sure to speak slowly and clearly, giving your employees ample time to process the information and ask questions if necessary.
Recently when my graphic designer, for whom English is a second language, failed to meet expectations on a design created for a client, rather than saying "your work was not up to par and lacked sufficient granularity," I chose to say, "your work could use some improvement and we need more detail." This clear and simple phrasing helped ensure that he understood my feedback and could take the necessary steps to improve his work.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
Use video conferencing tools like Zoom or Skype to give feedback face-to-face. This will help you communicate more effectively and build rapport with your employee. Your employee is also able to pick up on non-verbal language, such as your facial expressions and body language, which can convey important information that may be lost in a text-based communication.
You can also use screen sharing to show your employee examples of their work and provide real-time feedback on how they can improve, diminishing aspects that might be lost in translation otherwise. This interactive approach helps to create a more personal and engaging feedback experience and helps to bridge the distance between you and your international employee.
Be Empathetic and Patient
Recognize that language barriers and cultural differences may require extra time and patience when providing feedback. Be empathetic to the challenges faced by your international employees and try to put yourself in their shoes. Allow for extra time to explain concepts and provide examples to ensure clarity, as cross-border employees may need more context to fully understand the feedback. They may be hesitant to express their opinions directly, so a comfortable environment for staff to receive feedback and improve overall project performance is necessary. By showing empathy and patience, you will also demonstrate a respect for the local culture and ultimately build stronger relationships.
Foster Cultural Exchange and Team Building
Encourage a culture of mutual understanding and learning among team members by promoting cultural exchange and team-building activities. This can help create stronger bonds and trust among team members, making it easier for employees to both give and receive feedback. By fostering a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns, managers can effectively address any issues and improve overall team performance.
Set up regular team-building activities that encourage collaboration and communication, such as group projects, brainstorming sessions, and virtual team events. Encourage team members to share their cultural experiences and perspectives during team meetings and actively listen to their feedback. Through these activities, team members begin to understand and appreciate each other's cultural backgrounds, improving trust and cooperation. They become more comfortable giving and receiving feedback, and managers can effectively address any issues that arise.
Our team encourages cultural exchange and team building by organizing monthly team lunches where members are paired to discuss non-work-related topics. Additionally, we engage in personalized games on Slack, such as guessing childhood photos and interests, to foster connection and understanding among team members.
Remember, giving feedback is an ongoing process that requires open communication and understanding. Be patient and respectful, and your employee will be more likely to respond positively to your feedback.
About the Author – Vladimir Gendelman
Vladimir Gendelman is the Founder and CEO of Company Folders, Inc., a Michigan-based presentation folder printing company that has earned a spot on Inc. 5000's list of fastest-growing American companies for three consecutive years. With over two decades of experience managing international teams, Gendelman has expertly navigated language barriers and cultural differences while overseeing a diverse group of professionals.