Honesty vs. Politeness, A Cultural Predicament in Europe
Recently some interesting discussions have come up with my customers in Europe. They seem to be grappling with creating a culture of honestly while retaining their cultural value of politeness. The U.S. has long understood the code of political correctness, appropriate cultural behavior in the workplace, and softening messages in order to neutralize potentially hot subjects. Currently Europe is finding their own way of giving feedback directly, yet politely, working across cultural and gender diversity, and retaining a sense of chivalry while still hoping to make “harmless” blond jokes.
As I sat with my group yesterday, it dawned on me that because of the European tendency towards direct cross cultural communication, they may fore-go the truth all-together in order to avoid the risk of making a mistake. The situation was the following: The European Commission has expressed interest in giving more female researchers visibility in the field. My client has two women on the team and a male team lead asked his female colleague if she would consider presenting at the next EU Commission Council meeting. He complimented her work and told her it would be good for her career… However, she resisted, becoming suspicious of his motivation.
He asked me, “Can I tell her honestly the commission wants to see more women present research?” I found the question interesting. “What are you afraid of?”, I asked back. He said he didn’t want to make her feel “quota-tized”. The discussion ensued and eventually he was convinced that honesty was the best policy.