I recently observed a German manager who said the following to his mixed US and Italian team:

It’s typical where I was brought up in Germany to be clear & direct in giving feedback. People don’t take things personally and it helps to put things on the table fast and deal with the problem at hand objectively. In addition, we Germans tend to focus on what went wrong, rather than praising when people do well – we see this as ‘empty words’.

It’s not that we want to be negative; it’s just that people simply expect everyone to do their job well, with no fuss. However, I see how giving feedback like this could appear a bit pushy here in Italy and, for some of our US colleagues, a lack of positive feedback can make me seem ungrateful for your hard work. I just thought you need to know where I’m coming from, so my intentions are clear.

A basic challenge for everyone in a global organisation is to find the right balance between being yourself and adapting to culturally different others. Too much emphasis on being yourself and you risk being misunderstood by colleagues in other countries, even with the best of intentions. On the other hand, by adapting to others, you risk losing your authenticity.


One way to stay authentic, but also to show sensitivity and respect, is to ‘frame’ your own preferred approach.

This approach taken by the German manager above is smart because he expresses his own cultural preferences, explaining the value in his home context of doing it this way. He also shows sensitivity by saying how he thinks his own style might be perceived from other cultural points of view. His team appreciated this ability to make his intentions clear and quickly accepted his feedback style in the spirit in which it was intended. It was different but now made sense.


Making explicit:

  • your own cultural preferences
  • the value of own cultural preferences
  • how others may perceive your own preferences

works particularly well for those who choose not to adapt to the approach of local colleagues (‘When in Rome…), but need to ensure that their approach makes sense. In Tco International we develop this as part of our F.A.R. model (Framing, Adapting & Reconciling) in training managers to ‘expose their intentions’.

Making sense of others’ behavior (and ensuring our own makes sense to others) is a prerequisite to managing across cultures. In fact, one of the roles of international managers is to become an organizational ‘sense maker’ – ensuring that different ‘normals’ are understood, respected and valued.


This is particularly true when dealing with the positive opposite of the qualities we value in our ‘tribe’. For example, if the shared behavior in one tribe is agility and that of the other tribe is bringing structure then, particularly under stress, we tend to revert to an excess of our behavior – to compensate. The agile team member appears inconsistent; the structured member appears rigid.

Daniel Ofman’s Core Quadrant process is an excellent way to get access to your default approach which colors your leadership style. Using your quadrant you can then work through how your natural style may be perceived by others and how you may be allergic to behaviors which are simply an excess of what you need yourself to be a balanced manager. The same process can be done with Cultural Quadrants (the topic of a future blog here).


Framing to make sense of yourself to others means that colleagues not only know what you want from them, but also understand why you are asking it in that way. Investing in explaining why is part of the ‘slow is often fast’ aspect of good practice in managing across cultures.

Try it.

It makes sense.

Di David Trickey

I design company-wide projects which develop global people 'fit' for global organizations. This means partnering with HR and Learning & Development in building a blueprint so that high flying international strategy can be implemented by the lower flying people (on the ground) who make it happen in their day-to-day interactions. We have a consolidated team of over 50 support staff and associates around the world who deliver these projects and make global people development happen. As a consultant, coach, trainer, leadership team facilitator, writer and activity creator, I accelerate people in becoming 'fit for purpose' in a global organization. I'm also a Director for WorldWork Ltd, UK, where I develop global leadership tools. Finally, I'm a Partner in Viral ChangeTM Italy, an innovative approach enabling global organisations to bring sustainable and large scale behavioural change in support of their values and strategic goals. All these activities connect together (at least for me!) Member of SIETAR Europa (Society for Intercultural Education, Training & Research) and founding member of SIETAR Italia; Member of the Editorial Board of Cultus Journal; Certified Trainer in Daniel Ofman's Core Quadrants; Licensed Certifier in the International Team Trust Indicator (ITTI); Licensed Certifier in The International Profiler (TIP) & the International Preferences Indicator (IPI) I'm specialized in: - bringing intercultural issues 'alive' in large corporate events - international team building and facilitation - intercultural management assessment & development - building trust across cultures - remote team leadership - the international dimension of project management - large scale behavioural change in complex global organisations - embedding 'one company' corporate values across a geographically dispersed organisation - supporting corporate expatriate communities - designing a globalization plan so people support strategy