By Corporate English Solutions

26 July 2022 - 13:30

Reading time: 8 minutes 

Giving feedback is a key skill managers need for effective performance enablement and Continuous Performance Management. With increased diversity in teams, giving culturally sensitive feedback is crucial. We share 5 valuable tips to help you and your managers master the art of delivering feedback across cultures.  


Team diversity increases innovation and productivity in organisations. But successfully leading diverse teams needs managers who can give feedback with cultural intelligence skills. 

When feedback is done well, it can clarify expectations, ensure team members’ goals work towards the organisation’s strategic objectives and improve performance.  

Different cultural groups perceive constructive performance-related feedback differently. It can be embarrassing for some, confusing or frustrating for others. To give culturally sensitive feedback, preparation, adaptation and flexibility are critical. Managers can effectively: 

 Read on to discover 5 useful tips you can share with your managers to help them master culturally sensitive feedback. 

 1. Learn about cultural norms in the context 

Prepare for unfamiliar situations by researching common behaviour and preferences in that cultural context. Finding out about the expected workplace behaviour can help you give feedback that is culturally sensitive.  

You can also save embarrassment and time by avoiding making suggestions that are culturally inappropriate and your direct report may not be able to action. For example, asking your team members to share opinions in meetings could be difficult in a hierarchical cultural group. It may indicate disrespect or arrogance to their seniors.  

Remember to avoid stereotyping: while generalisations can be useful, not everyone in that context will behave in the same way. When you’re in an unfamiliar situation, you can learn a lot by simply listening and observing other managers giving feedback. How do they approach both positive and constructive feedback so their direct reports find it motivating and are keen to develop further? 

Seek out a ‘cultural translator’ or ‘cultural mentor’, an experienced colleague who can provide you with valuable insights into cultural norms, behaviours, communication styles, feedback preferences, and more.  

 2. Tune in to your team’s cultural preferences 

Tuning in to your team’s cultural preferences can help you develop empathy to different perspectives and expectations. 

There are many philosophies and approaches to intercultural communication. The British Council’s approach encourages managers and their teams to consider intercultural communication continuums, scales with contrasting preferences at either end. People can be at any place on the scale and may communicate differently in different situations and with different people.  

When learning about preferences around feedback, it can be useful to consider how you and others prefer to communicate.

 3. Clarify expectations if you’re unsure 

Culturally sensitive questions can clarify your direct reports’ expectations of giving and receiving feedback, giving you the opportunity to align expectations. Be careful, some cultural groups may dislike a lot of questions, avoid answering them or feel uncomfortable saying no, especially when you are senior to them.  

Ask fewer, more focused questions, explain why you need to know more about their expectations around feedback and reiterate the value of your relationship. Avoid asking closed questions, or phrase them in a way that allows them to say no if they need to. Consider speaking to them one-to-one if they may be uncomfortable answering in a group.  

4. Adapt to different communication preferences 

When giving feedback across cultures, remember that your usual approach and communication style may not be universally appreciated or the most efficient. This is true for both positive and constructive feedback. Consider the contrasting preferences continuums:   

Direct or indirect? 

Direct: You can usually give them both positive and constructive feedback in one-to-one or in group settings without embarrassing them.  

Indirect: You should give feedback privately, in one-to-ones or writing, especially for constructive feedback. Choose your words carefully so they don’t lose face. You may choose to “sandwich” the constructive feedback between two longer pieces of positive feedback.  

Task or relationship-focused? 

Task-focused: You can go straight into giving the feedback and should avoid sharing or asking for detailed personal information as it could be seen as time-wasting.  

Relationship focused: You should take time and care to build rapport and trust before giving feedback. This could be by spending a few minutes at the start of the feedback conversation having a chat, or by taking time for informal conversations or social events outside of feedback sessions.  

Risk or restraint-oriented? 

Risk-oriented: You can give constructive feedback freely as they may view mistakes and failure as an opportunity to learn. Focus on future actions and avoid spending too much time analysing performance, challenges and benefits. Be open to their experimenting and provide lots of opportunities for them to think of creative solutions to problems.  

Restraint-oriented: Allow plenty of time for deeper analysis, when giving both positive and constructive feedback, and to understand your direct reports’ needs and expectations. When making suggestions, provide background, details and describe the measurable benefits of any changes. Support them to plan for success, including working through processes and mitigating risk.  

Remember that people don’t fit neatly into these categories, so take your cue from your direct reports and be flexible during conversations with them.   

5. Bridge cultural gaps while remaining authentic 

While you will need to adjust to some discomfort in the early stages of adapting your communication style to give culturally sensitive feedback, it should get easier over time. Try not to change everything at once and avoid going to extremes, mimicking others’ behaviour and communication style. Remember that they, too, will behave differently in different situations and your adapted behaviour won’t suit every situation.  

By finding a style that feels authentic to you, your feedback will appear sincere. Your direct reports will appreciate this and feel valued and respected. 

Final thoughts 

By using these tips for giving culturally sensitive feedback, you and your managers will be able to make feedback sessions positive, build trust and engage multicultural team members.   

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