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Communication Between Multicultural Teams

Communication between multicultural teams

The country’s culture is directly linked with the way they sustain a dialog and there is an interesting thing about a dialog: The silence.

Let’s imagine we are having a conversation and you ask me what I think about your brand new t-shirt, and I took 8 seconds to answer it to you. It would sound weird if you live outside of Japan, China or any other Asian country and don’t realize I was showing respect and consideration to your question before giving my answer.

If you are a Western, you would be expecting my answer in about 2 seconds. It shows I’m interested, I care about you and we have a good relationship.

There are 3 categories to represent the silence time between conversations:

The 3 categories of silence in conmmunication

Category 1 – Simultaneously talks

Person A talks and person B starts talking overlapping person A and so on.

Simultaneously talks illustration

Cultures in this category: Latins (including Brazil), Mediterraneans, Arabians, Africans.

Category 2 – Perfect timing

In these cultures, a conversation sounds like a ping pong game. They don’t like overlap neither silence.

Perfect timing illustration

Cultures in this category: Anglo-Saxons (including US) and Germans.

Category 3 – Paused talks

If you put all cultures to talk together, this group will “lose” because they will wait their momentto speak, that never comes.

Paused talks illustration

Cultures in this category: East-Asians.

So, to make it work in a global team, you should have it in your mind and recognize these groups, inviting and giving them a clean moment to speak.

The context approach

Is known that different people from different countries needs different approaches. But how to do it properly? How teams should interact and work together in the midst of this hurricane of unwritten rules? Have you ever realized, for example, how hard could be to be in a meeting with Asians, Americans and Europeans to create something or to make business?

I’ll show some useful tips that should help you when facing those situations. Yes, “when”, not “if”.

It is all about context. Some countries are high-context and others low-context. I will explain those two concepts in a bit.

If you draw a line and start putting to the right side the countries with high-context culture, you’ll start with Japan, Korea, Indonesia, China and so on.

Between these two extremes of our line we have Brazil, Spain, Poland, Argentina and many others.

And going to the left side, the low-context ones, we have US, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Germany and so on, as we can see in this image below.

Low context vs High Context example

Now, let’s take a look at the main characteristics of high and low-context cultures.


They are implicit, layered, nuanced, less direct and emphasizes humans relationship. On the other hand, they used to be more sensitive to non-verbals and the felling of others. Do not say exactly what they want to mean, letting things “in the air” so they uses to understand it in an unconscious way and they learn how to do it since child-ages.

Japanese people can even “read the air”. They are the most high-context culture of the world and they know how to communicate with each other just reading expressions or looking in their yes.

If you would like to go further with high-context concept, there is a good article relating the 7 ways Indian programmers say “no”.


Usually are explicit, simple, clear, specific and precise, but poor at decoding unspoken messages and body languages.

They use to say exactly what they want to mean. As an example, in US schools, kids were taught to do presentations in this way: First you need to start saying what you are about to present, than you’ll present it, and after, you must say what you have just presented.

The US are the most low-context country of the world. There are not so many implicit things, and people used to be direct and make sure there were understood, even with jokes, usually they needs to clarify it was just a joke.

Negative feedbacks

Now that we already know about the context-approach, let’s talk about a new item which is directly linked with this: The way cultures gives negative feedback.

There are two ways to give negative feedbacks, one you go straight to the point (the direct one) and another you talk carefully avoiding a discussion (the indirect one).

A direct negative feedback is when you tell to your teammate exactly what you are thinking without many concerns, of course, in a way to help and make your colleague grow up, but to hurthis feelings.

In contrast, a indirect negative feedback (or improvement feedback in high-context countries), is when you care about your colleague feelings avoiding any possibility of conflict and measuring your words before start saying anything, but in a way to improve your colleague’s life or career too.

We can see below where your country is in the scale of the direct to indirect negative feedbacks.

Negative feedback example


When we summarize the feedbacks concept with the context-approach, we get these groups:

Sector A – Low-context & Direct negative feedback

Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Australia

Sector B – High-context & Direct negative feedback

France, Italy, Spain, Israel, Russia

Sector C – Low-context & Indirect negative feedback

UK, US, Canada

Sector D – High-context & Indirect negative feedback

Japan, China, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, India, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Thailand

Culture Map for multicultural teams

Styles of reasoning

We already know about context-approach and about feedbacks, so why not to improve our parameters? Let’s make it happen.

Reasoning is the action of thinking about something in a logical and sensible way. It is about logic,about reason, about things needs to make sense for you before your take an action.

With this definition in your mind, let’s separate it in two big groups to make it easier to understand:

Principles-first versus Applications-first

The principles-first reasoning countries tends to be oriented by the theory first, what is known. They will not start putting their hands to work without a solid basis or an explanation why they are doing something.

If you ask to a principles-first person to do something for you without saying the reasons, expect the question “why?” and have in your mind you are being disrespectful with them.

On the contrary, the application-first reasoning countries usually will start working on that without many questions because they yearn to see the results however small it may be. They are practical and sometimes could see the theory as a waste of time. Therefore, take care with your timing starting a meeting because they will become bored quickly.

You must have in your mind how to use this in your favor to make yourself understood and, if you need, being persuasive. For example: You have a task to work with your principles-first team. Now that you know, you will spend more time detailing, make everyone understand why your team are working on this and make sure every member are at the same step.

Only after a heavy briefing phase, your team will get the hands dirty. However, if your team are applications-first oriented, it is better to make just a quickly briefing phase and start working on that to avoid an uninterested team.

Take a look at this image bellow to figure out how your country is disposed in the scale of reasoning.

Principle first applications first


Here we go again. Let’s try to add one more element in our setup of parameters. How to lead feeling — and making your team feels — you are part of the team?

To help with this question, think about how your team prefer to see the leader figure.

Hierarchy x Egalitarian

There are two main groups of organizations: Hierarchical and Egalitarians. If your team is hierarchical oriented, you need to understand the chart of the company and respect the degrees, and probably you’ll even not be able to send an e-mail to anybody two-steps under or above your position in the company chart.

Hence, you need to scale things until reach your target. In China, for example, it is very common to have specific seats in a meeting based on company position and experience. You’ll have even an order to speak in a meeting respecting the company chart.

But, if you work in an egalitarian-oriented team, it probably doesn’t matter and you’ll not have any problem sending an e-mail to the CEO or to the janitor. Roles tends to be viewed with equality. For instance, try to identify the CEO in a meeting in Netherlands. It is an almost impossible task because they are egalitarians. They will dress in the same way, from the internship to the CEO.

Take a look again at the scale and how countries are disposed.

Egalitarian vs hierarchical example

To conclude, of course there are different cultures and different people around the world. We can’t just generalize, and I’m not here to tell you this analysis is 100% correct. But when you have parameters to setup the correct strategy to deal with people, knowing their habits and tendencies and mainly their culture, for sure you’ll perform well with your team and, consequently, you’ll make your team have a good perform as well.

There are many other parameters you can setup and if you were curious about this topic, I would like to suggest the Erin Meyer’s book called “The Culture Map”. Or just research for this theme on the Internet and you’ll be fine too.

Bibliographical reference

Meyer, Erin. The culture map: breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business / Erin Meyer

Carlos Ferreira | Business Analyst

DB1 Global


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Carlos Cesar Ferreira

Carlos Cesar Ferreira

Carlos has a degree in Systems Analysis and is also a Commercial Pilot.
He works at DB1 Global as an IT Business Analyst and is strong interested in topics related to business, culture, sports and obviously, airplanes.

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