Listening to feedback from clients who are saving your face


Takahashi invited me for supper after the lecture on “Interfaces between R&D and Customer Service: A Cultural Perspective”.

He and I had dined several times before; the ice between us was thawed.

Takahashi had spent 2 years in the States as a young boy, so his English sounded good yet I knew he was traditional.

After an hour, Takahashi had not said a word about my lecture and I was concerned. Naturally, I wanted to ask “how was it” but I knew Takahashi was a face saver and he will give me negative feedback in a year from now, if not in two years. Israelis are in a hurry; not Japanese.

So, here is what I did.

1) “Takahasi-san, the subject today was very complex and I am not sure my lecture was clear enough.” Then I waited.

2) “Takahasi-san, my power point slides appeared a bit crowded. I am always worried how much detail to provide in Japan.” Then I waited.

3) Takahashi –san, I need to give this lecture in Taipei in a week, what can I change?

Takahasi looked at me and asked me, “How good is their English, Shevat-san?” I knew I was in close to the issue, and I answered, “Like Japan”.

Takahashi then said: “Your lecture was excellent Shevat-san because although you are from OD, you understand technical domain. You also understand Japan. You also have lots of global experience. I suggest you “talk slower so people can understand you. Thank you”

What  can be learnt from this?

1) Some clients save your face-be aware. And too much face means-look for what’s wrong.

2) Make deprecating statements and wait for a response.

3) Look for hints, body language, eye contact and the unsaid.

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Doing OD in a face saving culture

Hank is a client of mine from Holland. I know him from McGill University. We met in a Chinese history class in the sixties. He tracked me down because he knows I do global OD.

Hank leads a global Sales Forces in China for a Dutch company. Two of his key and most talented, well connected subordinates (A from Sales of Next Generation Products and B from Account Management) do not cooperate. No information is shared. No leads are shared. Both A and B bad mouth one another to the clients. Sales have plummeted.

Hank summed up what he w\anted. “Dez guys behavior vill kill us. Fix it qvickly”

So, I was asked to improve the way the subordinate work together. The subordinates (Mr. A and Mr. B) speak some English. My Chinese is poor (I would say horrendous). Yet we manage to communicate, at times using a translator.

I have spent about 50 hours each with A and B to build a personal credit line. We have had lots of informal time together. They know about my kids and grand-kids . I know about their family. We are not friends. Yet they trust me. I have helped them with issues they have with Hank (I have arranged business class tickets for their wives for non-business related travel and helped them hire people that D did not want to hire.)

Hank has told me that “we have no more time for process; these two bums must cooperate now”.

Here is the conversation I had with A and B. It reflects a different way of doing OD. Some may claim it is not OD. It is- but not Western OD.

1) I (Allon) have a problem.

2) Hank hired me to improve the way we work.

3) There are rumors that there is no information sharing.

4) There are badmouthing rumors. Maybe some clients are playing games.

5) I need help because I am failing.

6) Can you help me?

Within a week, Hank sent me a bottle of wine. A and B were working well together.

Some folks may ask: why did Hank not do the work himself? I suggest that if you asking this question, start brushing up on the intricacies of developing a global mindset

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