Can Appreciation Cross Cultures?

March 29, 2017 8:00 am Published by
NOTE: This is an exclusive preview from my new book, The Vibrant Workplace: Overcoming the Obstacles to Building a Culture of Appreciation, which will be released on April 4 and can be pre-ordered now (go here for a special pre-release offer with access to a “behind the scenes” video interview).


I have had the privilege of traveling internationally to numerous countries to introduce the concept of authentic appreciation in the workplace.  Fortunately, authentic appreciation and vibrant workplaces aren’t limited to certain cultures. They exist on every inhabited continent. (Our book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, has been translated into 15 languages, and we have Appreciation at Work Certified Facilitators in over 25 countries.) And different cultures bring out unique aspects of what “vibrancy” looks like.

In a fascinating book The Culture Map, Erin Meyer outlines a model that identifies a series of characteristics of cultures and where cultures vary:

  • Communication: Low-context (simple, clear) vs. high-context (nuanced, layered)
  • Negative feedback: Direct vs. indirect
  • Persuasion: Principles-first (deductive) vs. application-first (inductive)
  • Leadership: Egalitarian (among peers) vs. hierarchical (boss/subordinate)
  • Decision-making: Consensus vs. top-down
  • Trust: Task-based (cognitive) vs. relationship-based (affective)
  • Disagreement: Confrontational vs. avoids confrontation
  • Time and scheduling: Linear vs. flexible

Mapping out your culture (for example, the US) and the culture of origin of a business associate along these continua of traits provides insights for understanding areas of potential misunderstanding in your interactions.

Lessons From a Multinational Training Experience

A few years ago, I had the privilege of training the management and supervisors of an elite international organization in how to communicate authentic appreciation to their staff. Functioning within the tourism and hospitality industries, the staff (in one location) come from over forty countries and six continents.

One of the encouraging aspects of the training was the feedback I received from the top executives down to the front-line supervisors. The most important concepts they valued included:

  • Not everyone feels appreciated in the same way;
  • There are alternative ways to communicate appreciation besides words (and words are not valued by everyone);
  • Communicating appreciation in the way that is valued by the recipient is critical, as opposed to what the sender prefers;
  • Perceived authenticity is key and can be a challenge in cross- cultural work relationships.

Roy Saunderson, a colleague who has done training on recognition and appreciation in Canada, the U. S., Europe, and the Middle East, made an interesting comment to me when we were discussing appreciation and cultural differences. He stated,

“Wherever I’ve gone, regardless of how warm and expressive or cool and distant a culture is—all the employees I interacted with indicated to me that they desired more, and more authentic recognition in their workplace.”

So, it appears the answer to the opening question, “Isn’t the appreciation concept really just an American fad?” is an emphatic: “No, it’s not!” The need for appreciation is expressed in a variety of countries and cultures.   (Go to for more cross-cultural examples.)







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March 29, 2017 8:00 am

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