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Career Q&A: Cultural differences may explain hurt feelings over evaluation

Different countries united with their flags raised. [Shutterstock]
Different countries united with their flags raised. [Shutterstock]
Published Apr. 17, 2018

Q: About four months ago, I immigrated to Canada from Nigeria. I'm still trying to understand the Canadian culture, but I think I'm adjusting pretty well. However, I am worried about my job.

Yesterday, my Canadian boss gave me an evaluation which seemed unfair. I think she started disliking me shortly after I arrived. This feels terrible because I have always been regarded highly, but that doesn't seem to be true here. How can I change my boss's thoughts toward me?

A: Cultural differences between Nigeria and Canada may play a role in your current dilemma. As described by researcher Erin Meyer in her book The Culture Map, many common business practices vary widely from country to country.

For example, some business cultures (like the U.S. and Canada) are more task-based — that is, the way you are regarded depends largely on how well you meet expectations in performing your job. Personal relationships are less important.

Others (like Nigeria and India) are more relationship-based — that is, the way you are perceived depends largely on developing positive relationships over time. Specific task accomplishments matter less. Performance critiques also vary, with some cultures being more explicit and others more subtle.

When you started this job, your Canadian boss may have automatically corrected your work as she would with any new employee. From her viewpoint, giving direct, task-related feedback is a normal part of her management role. But from your perspective, this may have felt like unfair criticism and personal animosity.

Your manager may be surprised by your hurt feelings. She'd probably explain that she does like you and simply wants to help you succeed. So if you wish to "change her thoughts," begin by assuming that her comments aren't personal, then take the task-oriented approach of asking how you can improve your work.

Feeling discouraged after boss' review

Q: My last performance review was very discouraging. I work for a small engineering firm and recently earned a professional certification in my field. When I asked whether becoming certified would qualify me for a raise, the owner replied that certifications have no benefit for the company.

I then asked how I could increase my earning power. He seemed to resent the question and said I am paid less because I work on low-profit jobs. However, those projects are assigned by management. Now I'm feeling depressed and demotivated. Do you have any advice?

A: If your grouchy owner discourages professional growth and limits you to undesirable projects, this doesn't sound like a very rewarding place to work. To determine whether there's any hope for change, consider having one more conversation with a slightly different focus.

Instead of debating certification or compensation, ask what skills you might acquire that would be useful for the business. Explore the requirements for higher-level projects and see how you can qualify for those assignments. If this discussion proves to be productive, draft a plan for enhancing your abilities and expanding your scope.

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But if you seem destined to be stuck in a restricted role, perhaps it's time to explore other options. When short-sighted managers disregard career concerns, increased turnover is the price they pay.