30 September 2010

Lost in Translation

Americans and Russians have distinct and different communication patterns.  As such, Russians can perceive Americans as overly giddy and somewhat shallow while Americans can perceive Russians as forward, abrupt, and prickly.

When providing feedback, the American pattern is:
  • Start with the positives
  • Compliment the other party
  • Very slightly point out the negative or - better yet - make a suggestion for improvement
The Russian communication pattern is something like:
  • State the negatives
  • Explain the problems that the negatives can create
  • Hint at the positives

To illustrate the point, let's assume that Diego is wearing a wrinkled shirt that is becoming to him.  Diego's dialog with Dan the American and Dmitry the Russian would go something like this:
Diego:  What do you think of my shirt?
Dan:  The color is really nice; it complements your complexion.  Maybe it could use a bit of ironing, but it looks great! 
Diego:  What do you think of my shirt?
Dmitry:  The shirt is wrinkled.  It looks like you slept in it.  The color is not bad.
There are benefits to getting the naked truth as there are benefits in gently pitching bad feedback.  Neither culture has a monopoly on the right communication patter at all times ... but things can and do get lost in translation.


  1. So much true, Amir! :) I'd even say that "Hint at the positives" is optional in the russian communication pattern. In most situations people wouldn't prize positive parts - they're already positive after all, so no need to bother... :)

  2. Reminds me of an old joke about the difference between American, Israelian, and Russian forums:
    - US forum: you ask a question and receive 10 answers, all aiming to help.
    - Israelian forum: you ask a question and receive 10 more questions about the details of your first question.
    - Russian forum: you ask a question and receive 10 opinions about how stupid you are to ask such a question.

    And agree with --maximk: in most cases people don't even hint at anything positive.

    Tanya (--tatianar)

  3. sounds like you are confused.

    men tend to state the problem and how to solve it.

    women tend to nurture first and then suggest improvements.

  4. Speaking from the gut like a man, it looks like the last anonymous poster is an idiot.

  5. Amir - here's a review of a book where Russians apparently self-reflect on their culture


  6. There are very few Americans who are willing to describe how they perceive Russians or any other nationals for that matter, in some part because of the traits correctly mentioned in the post.

    So this kind of cultural analysis is always welcome.

    I would also recommend the book http://bit.ly/cJTTsc