Multiculturalism, Global Economics & Miscommunication

Published: 06/03/2014

This blog post is prompted by Darlene Duerks sharing the following article with the Women in Mining LinkedIn Group: How To Say “This Is Crap” In Different Cultures, published by Erin Meyer in the blog of the Harvard Business Review on the 25th of February.

She talks about the different ways different cultures present and handle negative feedback. This topic of business etiquette/global communication is so relevant and important in our global economy and multicultural world. Mining, our sector, is global and we talk to and work with people from all over the world.

Erin especially mentions the Dutch/German way of giving feedback, the British, French and American and provides us with a visual dictionary.

The comments thread is almost as interesting as the article itself!

In my opinion on top of cultural differences other things play a role as well like how well a person has a command of the “work” language or language he is engaging with. There are a lot of “false friends” for example which can set you a trap. For those that don’t know what a “false friend” is: a word or expression that has a similar form to one in a person’s native language, but a different meaning (for example English magazine and French magasin ‘shop’). Like one person in the comments mentions the verb “demand” in English or French have different meaning and if you use the French ask in an English context the English person will take your “demand” quite as an order rather than a question.

There is also non-verbal communication: body postures and hand gestures in different cultures as we know mean different things.

Another research report has been published in January by Rebecca Merkin, Vas Taras and Piers Steel in the International Journal of Intercultural Relations on a related topic and is called State of the art themes in cross-cultural communication research: A systematic and meta-analytic review.

“It provides a systematic review and integrative analysis of cultural value research and communication, and links between cultural values and communication are summarized and tested by the means of meta-analysis.

Specifically, the analyses assessed the direct effects of cultural values (individualism, masculinity, power distance, uncertainty avoidance) on communication patterns (indirectness, self-promotion, face-saving concerns, attitudes to silence, openness, interruption, personal space, high-context communication, deception, dramatism, and ritualism). Significant results showed that:
(1) individualism is positively related to direct communication and self-promotion, and negatively related to sensitivity and face-saving concerns and the propensity to use deception;
(2) high power distance is positively related to sensitivity and face-saving concerns and indirect communication and negatively related to a propensity to interrupt;
(3) masculinity is positively related to a self-promoting communication style and direct communication and negatively related to sensitivity and face-saving concerns; and
(4) uncertainty avoidance is positively related to both sensitivity and face-saving concerns.”
Rebecca Merkin, Vas Taras, Piers Steel

I am sure we all have stories to tell and invite you all to share them here so that we might all learn from them.

I am half Brazilian, half Italian but I grew up in Belgium and went to a German school and I have lived in London since 2002. Yes it looks complicated.

I am still adjusting and adapting to the English way of saying things and often fall into the trap of “explaining myself” which comes natural to me as acceptable in other cultures or expected but not here. Here it is a NO NO.

And one can’t forget that London is a melting pot meaning that even Brits are often second-generation from anywhere in the world with different cultures attached to it.

It is sometimes difficult to convey the message in a way that is neutral and acceptable in all cultures, not too soft and not too strong.

What are your stories?