When communicating with a non confrontive culture, how to ensure that real agreement exists? (revised)


Many cultures shun confrontation of any kind in the work place, the most extreme examples being Thailand and the Philippines, as well as many other places in Asia, the Middle East and South America.

In these cultures, verbal agreement is given to show respect, give face, preserve harmony and avoid embarrassment.

So how does a Westerner go  about verifying if the verbal agreement being expressed is more than just “being polite”?

1) A very close and trusting relationship will inevitably over time enable you to get more “meaty” input.

2) Use a third party. If you have spoken to X and are not sure what she thinks, ask Y if X agrees with you or not.

3) Ask the same thing in many ways. Assume for example, that you have spoken to X to inform her that product documentation will be available only in English, and X must “manage the customer for at least a  year” until local documentation is available.  X has given an apparent yes.  To make sure, ask X, “Will the client think our company is arrogant?” “What are the risks?” “How will this impact your credibility”? “Please tell me risks I am not seeing”? “Would you prefer I change my decision?”

4) Listen to what is not being said. For example “that could work” is different than “that will work”!

5) Is body language affirming what the words are saying? If X is looking down or away from from you whilst agreeing, you have your answer.

6) Do not use cell phones or emails to verify understanding of complex issues. Be there in person.

A helpful glossary: 

  • This could work may mean-this won’t work.
  • I need to think about it, but it’s a good idea- may mean-rubbish.
  • I will do, may mean- I will do albeit I don’t agree.
  • Not bad, may mean- piss poor.
  • Yes, may mean-No.
  • Please explain, may mean- No.
  • Ok, may mean, -it’s your dime.

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