How cultural differences affect outsourcing – UK & Eastern Europeans (I)
In order to avoid business misunderstandings, cultural differences between Eastern and Western Europeans or other nations of the world must be taken into consideration and need to be diminished. What is there to be aware of when it comes to collaborations between the United Kingdom and Eastern Europe?
We are all part of a global network nowadays – and communication is key. The dominant style of the UK business culture is oriented towards being as literal and explicit as possible; however, UK is placed almost in the middle of the chart between low-context (as we’ve seen regarding the US in the articles before, direct and transparent) and high-context (subtle, even metaphorical at times). The British won’t generally state, “just to be sure”, that “it was a joke”. This may be seen as an advantage, as they can cater to both sides of prolific communication. They also like to laugh and enjoy talking to people with a sense of humor, but take note: if you aren’t open towards (self)ironic styles, much of the humor UK people usually use can get wasted in a business meeting if you’re just trying to taste the joke and are ignoring the feedback which is most likely given through it; this is the exact clash point between their low and high-context ways of expression.
Closing the gap:
If you’re coming from a low-context culture, you may perceive a high-context communicator as secretive – lacking transparency. If you’re coming from a higher context culture, you may perceive a low-context brethren as shallow, or just stating the obvious. As stated before, when it comes to the UK, people are all over the chart; luckily, both sides can feel free to joke and speak as directly as business etiquette allows it; Eastern Europeans usually begin the meetings with small talk and leave the serious issues for the middle of the meeting. They will avoid expressing the issues directly, leaving the impression that they are hiding the truth when they are just trying to be polite – and POLITE is the keyword when dealing with UK businessmen. In any case, both sides should practice the act of listening.
People from all cultures believe in “constructive criticism”, yet what is viewed in one culture as constructive can be seen as destructive in another. This is called feedback and usually, it is expressed either as direct negative feedback or as indirect negative feedback. Where do the UK folks sit? Straight in the middle of the scale, which can mean that, depending on the business type, you will get mixed types of feedback.
One way to begin gauging how a culture handles its feedback is by taking note of the type of words people use. Direct cultures, according to linguists, tend to favor upgraders – totally, absolutely, strongly – right before the negative feedback. Indirect cultures tend to soften the intro, using downgraders – kind of, sort of, a little. When it comes to the UK, be them upgraders or downgraders – they’ll use whatever is available, often in higher-context manners, which makes the act of listening, as suggested in the section before, even more useful.
When it comes to Eastern Europeans, the non-verbal elements are important in evaluating feedback, hence, a lack can lead to missing out the point. Let it be reminded that they also take conflicts more personally, which may make higher-context communication a double-edged blade. It’s important to build a good personal relationship in order to have a successful business partnership. For example, Ukrainians and Bulgarians are treating feedback in a more direct manner, they are more comfortable with more direct communication styles. However, Romanians tend to be more subtle when giving feedback and will expect the same.
Closing the gap:
The “sandwich method” will eventually save us all; this method is very useful when working with Eastern Europeans overall, especially Bulgarians, Ukrainians and Romanians; when giving feedback, try to emphasize the positive aspects and express the negative ones as challenges that both parties can overcome if they will to do so. This will create a positive environment that will motivate everyone to give out their best.
There is an egalitarian management approach when it comes to leadership and a hierarchical one, both of them being proven successful across various cultures. In an egalitarian culture, the aura of authority is more likely to stem from acting like “one of the team”, while in a hierarchical culture, an aura of authority tends to come from setting yourself apart from the team. Which one would you prefer?
The UK falls right in the middle between the two management styles. On the other hand, Eastern Europeans are hierarchical. The general manager not only retains a strategic role but also has the highest authority to decide about how the tasks are being executed. This has a direct impact: Eastern Europeans expect the general manager (or the hierarchical superior) to know their assignments and instruct them on how to improve their work. This also means that there are higher expectations towards leaders to not only manage the business but also to be involved in other operational areas, including sales, account management and project management.
Closing the gap:
In the Eastern European region, building trust and networking plays an important part in establishing good business relationships. This could take more time but will contribute to a healthier long-term business relationship. Eastern Europeans always tend to seek the general manager’s approval. As a UK outsourcer, make sure you maintain direct communication with the business leaders, not only with the project manager. It is best to confirm any important decision with the highest hierarchical leader involved in the process. Also, make sure the Eastern European highest hierarchical leader involved is updated on the project’s progress.
As previously observed, the decision making part of businesses is pretty much tied to the type of leadership a business enforces. As such, the UK falls yet again in the middle of the chart, between consensual and top-down.
Eastern Europeans are, as in leadership, clearly hierarchical; they have a so called top-down approach. They also tend to be risk-averse, so they will take any required actions to reconfirm any important decision. This may lead to undesired delays when it comes to conducting business under US management. Eastern Europeans are usually more flexible when dealing with problems, and they tend to be more open to applying innovative, out of the box decisions, rather than rigid, known-to-work solutions.
Closing the gap:
Both consensual and top-down approaches will prove effective in the end, but when working in a multicultural team, a balance must be found. As an UK outsourcer, try to be pro-active and always try to communicate as clearly as possible your expectations about the decision process. Take into consideration the opinions of your peers, even if they are not always openly expressed. Don’t immediately interpret delays in a negative manner, as refusal. More often than not, it just means that more time is required from your Eastern European counterpart in order to eliminate any risks. Be patient and make sure that you are contributing to building trust.
We’ll be approaching the issues of Trusting, Disagreeing, Scheduling and Persuading in business conducted between the United Kingdom and Eastern Europe. Make sure to revisit our blog next week!