Do your foreign contacts often say “yes” and then do nothing? Do you never get negative feedback?

Especially in very indirect cultures there is a tendency not to speak out negative things openly. Instead, you usually say “yes”, even though you cannot complete a task at all, for example. Or you only get to hear praise, although there are actually enough things how the company could be improved. As a result, you are missing important information that you urgently need for successful work.

We have put together practical tips and strategies that will give you better / more honest answers.

How well do you take feedback?

Basically, you should first check how you accept feedback yourself! At this point the main reason for a lack of negative feedback can already lie. Does the other person feel that you react dismissive, offended or with too many justifications to negative statements?

This can lead to a gradual lack of negative feedback. The following article tells you what to keep in mind when you get feedback from others.

Read between the lines!

In my experience, telling an indirect person to please be more direct is of little use. If you are used to communicating negative things in an encrypted or indirect way for years, then you will find it very difficult to get rid of this characteristic.

So it is up to you to read more between the lines! If you assess your counterpart as an indirect person, you should therefore pay more attention to the “quiet tones”! By the way, communicating positive things is not a problem for indirect people. Negative statements, on the other hand, are circumscribed, presented as a small problem or only hinted at.

Conversely, this means: If you don’t hear a clear “yes”, it almost doesn’t matter what you hear instead. It’s probably a “no”. If your indirect counterpart says, for example, that it could be difficult to complete a task on time, then this – read between the lines – is very likely a “no” to the punctual delivery of the task.

That means: small problems are – with indirect people – most likely bigger problems. Implied rejections are most likely a rejection. They were only communicated very politely and in coded form. So be prepared to read more between the lines!

Written feedback, open questions, hierarchy

My experience from 16 years of international work shows that indirect people give more open feedback, provided they can do so in writing and anonymously. You just have to give them the opportunity!

When I worked with Chinese employees [who didn’t want to give me negative feedback at all], after several unsuccessful attempts at finding a solution, I appointed a spokesman among the Chinese employees. This person was supposed to act as an interface to me from now on. Through this “trick” this person was placed a bit higher in the hierarchy and was therefore allowed to address critical things more openly to me. In addition, this person did not pass on his own feedback, but that of his Chinese colleagues. This is one of the reasons why this employee was a bit more direct than usual.

I would also like to recommend that you use open questions more often when you work with indirect people! So don’t ask “Is everything okay?” But “What do you need my help with?”! Since you can rarely answer open questions with a simple “yes” or “no”, you will receive at least one whole sentence as an answer. You can read a lot more from this longer statement than from a mere “yes”.

You can make your international collaboration much easier!

Just book a cross-cultural training!

The background knowledge presented here is part of our transnational cross-cultural training courses, in which we provide you with interactive and exciting know-how about effective worldwide communication.

We optimize your international collaboration so that you can focus 100% on your actual tasks! 🙂


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About Markus Eidam

Nach meinem insgesamt vierjährigen Aufenthalt in verschiedenen Ländern dieser Welt bin ich seit dem Jahr 2004 Geschäftsführer bei den Auslands-Experten von Eidam & Partner. In jüngeren Jahren habe ich Interkulturelle Kommunikation, Erwachsenenbildung und Psychologie studiert und mich zum Trainer, Coach und Personalfachwirt der IHK ausbilden lassen. Unser Unternehmen bietet Ihnen Interkulturelles Training, Interkulturelles Coaching, Consulting und eLearning zu 80 Zielländern.
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