It's accepted, it's respected, and it's even expected. Unfortunately, more often than not, it's also not at all appreciated by people from foreign cultures and we have to be really careful with our words.
I couldn't figure out what was going on, because this tendency you describe was on full display right from the beginning. They invited us into their home then started giving us shit as soon as we walked in the front door. I thought they were just snobs and wanted to say fuck your stupid staircases and stroopwafel ain't shit (lying of course), but held my tongue because it wasn't my family. My wife on the other hand wasn't as restrained and gave it right back. Hearing Oom Rob laugh at her precision strikes made it all clear. We got along great after that and really had a fantastic time.
For what it's worth, I find Russians are expert at this as well.
They had your best interests at heart even if it might not have come across that way. I'm glad you figured that out back then and the relation didn't turn sour!
I personally haven't met many Russians, but many Romanians seem to share this trait as well
On the other hand I started to appreciate way more the way the English do it once I moved there for a while and worked closely with them - they tell you what's wrong, but really nuanced and careful as to not openly offend. But it takes a bit of practice and skill to understand what's actually being said, and once you have the skill and understanding, you can correct things without openly offending anybody.
> stay with them for a long weekend in Amsterdam.
I guess he got a firsthand experience of the famously steep and narrow Amsterdam staircases.
Unless someone has real data on this, I'll keep to my anecdote of having worked with dozens and dozens of people from all over Europe and the Americas, and I can count with one hand how many people were actually productively direct and not just rude and immature.
("Prominent" here meaning "writes popular books as well as academic ones".)
One of the things that jumps out is that "culture X" is rarely as broad as an entire country (except perhaps a microscopic one). There are always cultures within the country, defined by gender, age, religion, wealth, location, ethnic heritage, etc etc etc.
There genuinely are cultural groups who will speak less directly ("Would you mind passing the salt?") and those who will speak more directly ("Pass the salt.") It's not just more-and-less; you still have to hit the correct level for the specific instance.
Tannen is perhaps most famous for writing about the different styles that men and women use (in different groups; it's very much taught by culture, not biology). I found it immensely helpful for understanding not just what women say but also what I say. I highly recommend her books.
I'm sorry I don't have direct links to scholarly articles that provide exactly what you're looking for, but that's where I'd start looking for them. It's entirely possible that they exist -- but they almost certainly don't come down to "The Dutch are more direct."
For us as practitioners of this behaviour, intended rudeness is actually easy enough to spot.
It may be true. A significant part of the world may be outside the "always lie to avoid offense" way of conducing yourself.
I would also say that "being direct" and "saying difficult things" are often not be the same. The former may just be "saying whatever pops into your head" whereas the latter is much more carefully considered.
Well, as in any other country: there exists rude people in The Netherlands as well ;)
So, the next time when someone says "Oh boy, I talked to this Dutch... he was rude!", what are the chances of that Dutch being a) straightforward, b) rude, or c) both?. I find c) happens most of the time.
Although not always easy, not letting yourself feel offended, assuming positive intent, and just walking away with a smile is a guaranteed win under most circumstances.
It seems much better to say outright that you think something is stupid vs. thinking it's stupid and pretending it's not. In cultures where it's common people can take it, in cultures where it's not common you're perceived to be an offensive jerk.
I've also found Germans to be pretty straight shooters. On a scale of Duty to Californian, their def. closer to Dutch.
I expect people to bring criticism, but I expect them to do so constructively if they want to be listened to. "This plan is unworkable because X but if we did Y instead that would lead to Z which would work much better," is actually helpful. "This plan is stupid," isn't.
I'm curious how this scales. In your culture, how do you deal with a thousand people in a company feeling comfortable telling the CEO how wrong he is? What happens when 500 people think one way and 500 think the other?
Lastly, you need to moderate your feedback because sometimes the CEO can take you too seriously! If you just lay out a coherent argument that something is stupid, it can look very dire to the CEO. Offering a thoughtful and slightly more optimistic alternative perspective can help a lot. I had to learn that I was unduly stressing CEOs in these situations, because they took the negative feedback seriously without proactively offering a counter-balancing optimistic scenario when that existed. The best approach is “this is won’t work but I have an idea”.
Even in cultures where this is considered normal, most people don’t do it, or don’t do it well. Constructive no-bullshit feedback is genuinely valued by CEOs at large companies. Being that person, which I naturally am, has been very high leverage across many large companies in my experience.
Our organisational structures are generally just as flat as our landscape, which might help promote more opportunities for people to speak their minds to upper management. I don't have data on this though.
A distant relative of mine always said his business would have never started making money if it weren't for the Polish ladies who worked in his factory complaining so much about their work areas. He had his lunch in the general cafeteria together with everyone else whenever he could, and that is not uncommon here.
Edit: We also have a concept called "medezeggenschapsraad" or "ondernemingsraad" (depending on context), which is a kind of employee panel with decision making power that businesses of 50 employees and up are required to have. Unsure if this is unique to the Netherlands though.
If there is a choice to be made, he should make it, explain it, and live it.
Unfortunately in many western cultures, criticizing is often synonym to mocking/shaming.
So if you are being honest but with a positive intent, people will still feel attacked because it's what the situation would mean in their own culture.
This reminds of Edsger W. Dijkstra.
> "I don't know how many of you have ever met Dijkstra, but you probably know that arrogance in computer science is measured in nano-Dijkstras." -- Alan Kay
"I'm not rude, I just tell it like it is"
There's a difference between 'what my instinct is' and 'thoughtful communication'.
It's possible in these kinds of situations that 'the plan is objectively dumb' and surely therefore someone might not be interested ... but I've seen more often than not people not really understand why something is initiated, what the objectives are etc. and just make narrow assumptions with belligerance, which they believe is 'being direct'. It's 'direct' in a way, in that it's a 'direct articulation of a narrow set of assumptions' - but that doesn't make it good or professional.
"This is dumb, I don't want to work on it" is surely direct, but it's also essentially an immature and unprofessional way of communicating.
More appropriately it would be: "I don't think this plan will achieve the understanding I have of the objectives for this, this and this reason, but here are some alterations that might work" - or "Technically, I don't think this will work because of this reason, but I don't understand what the non-technical objectives are so my feedback is limited to that scope" - or "I think these areas are more risky than implied, but these areas will work" or better "This won't work for these reasons, but fill us in on the strategic objectives and we can fill in the blanks with something that will, if we can".
I personally appreciate 'directness' a lot, but a lot of people misunderstand that to be 'what I think off the top of my head without trying to actually address the issue'.
And yest, there's way too much sensitivity around criticism going on. Legit criticism needs to be allowed. It's also really hard for some people to separate themselves form their critique or their work and so communications sometimes gets mangled on both sides.
George Carlin said, "Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?".
I think this thought applies to directedness as well.
But also, "this is dumb" is insulting. It is not direct, it it's just insult with 0 information.
"This won't work" or "this will cause issues" or "this is complicated" would be better equivalents, because they actuality hint to what your issue is and wont insult. The management, if it listens and have good reasons is then fully able to modify their own plan or stick with it while noting objections. They are also fully able to explain why they are doing it is objection seem to miss the mark.
It's then up to that director to hear them out and find out what their concerns are really all about. Perhaps they should be given a bit more information, so they can also see the bigger picture and how it'll benefit them too.
Some really high leverage opportunities can come out of this.
1. The Dutch were the pre-eminent traders in Asia after England.
2. Today, there are globally recognized Dutch brands like Shell, Philips, Unilever, and so on.
3. Dutch computer science has contributed to the advancement of technology in both theory and practice. Two representatives of those sides are Edsger W. Dijkstra and Guido Van Rossum. You may not be sitting on a Dutch sofa, but my money is on the that you do code in Python, which was developed at the Stichting Mathematisch Centrum, Amsterdam, now CWI.
4. Even in art, Netherlands has contributed a huge number of painters like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, etc
For perspective : the population of Netherlands is 17 million, which is 1/20th that of the US.
Despite such stereotypes as "going Dutch" etc., the Dutch have contributed enormously to the modern world.
I don't know the author, but in my experience, this is usually false. People who tell you to be frank and that they are able and willing to receive any kind of feedback, usually aren't.
It's a power play.
They say this to appear strong, but if you take them up to their word and actually tell them the truth, they either get upset or completely shut you down. I have had many experiences of this, and one again pretty recently.
Some things are best left unsaid. Unthought even, maybe.
> They say this to appear strong, but if you take them up to their word and actually tell them the truth, they either get upset or completely shut you down. I have had many experiences of this, and one again pretty recently.
Are these people you'd consider yourself very close with?
The intent of some mindfulness and meditation exercises is to become more attuned to one's lower-level physical responses as a grounding point for being able to more readily identify one's higher-level emotional responses.
In the moment, it might be difficult to recognize and moderate the higher-level reaction without first becoming adept at recognizing the lower ones (e.g., sweaty palms or tense muscles).
The recent incident, no, not at all. But I had an abusive ascendant as a child, who would encourage us to "speak our mind" and then punish us for it. I can spot the type for quite a long way away.
Unfortunately, being able to spot them doesn't prevent one from falling victim yet again. We tell ourselves it will be better this time -- well, it usually isn't.
I'm really sorry that happened to you, it sounds traumatic. I can understand why you'd be hesitant to share honest feedback with others after going through that.
> The recent incident, no, not at all
I wrote this post with people who I'm close with, or interested in being close with, in mind. For a random person I'm going to have a one-off interaction with, or someone who I won't interact with regularly, I'd weigh up whether it's worth it or not. If I mean nothing to them, I doubt honest feedback would be received well
However, through all of that, I honestly feel I've only received the same kind of communication in return from people I've build trust with in other ways, generally through friendship of some sort.
Very interested in suggestions as to how to better translate a willingness to say the difficult things into getting other people to do it too, even to those without a preexisting personal basis of trust.
Definitely rings true.
> Make it into a cooperative discussion so they don't feel like they're the only one criticizing the subject
If these are people I have time to have regular 1:1s with, then what you're saying does make sense. But there are a lot of people I work with where the benefits from saying the difficult thing would be large that I don't work closely enough with to be able to spend that kind of time. I guess what I'm really asking is how to translate that into a culture; either raise the average trust level or lower the required trust level for difficult conversations.
But not talking about something doesn't magically make it disappear. Things you don't talk about are still there, lurking in the shadows, subconsciously influencing everything you do.
If it’s world politics, it probably won’t. Even if you do actually convince him that his pet solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is a bad idea, he was never in a position to put his terrible plan into action anyway, so the whole conversation accomplished nothing.
We can talk about about awkward things, nobody has to convince anyone of anything. You can listen to the other person and just come to understand how they feel and why. You don't need to feel the same way, just have a better understanding of why they feel how they feel.
If more people did this the world would be a much better place. It'd accomplish a lot, I think.
The best case scenario is that talking about politics doesn’t make your relationship worse. The most likely outcome, as you’ve noticed, is that we both leave convinced that each other are idiots. The good outcomes of more ordinary conversation, where we learn from each other and put what you learn into action, doesn’t exist. So what’s the point?
Which is also what we need to stick it to the man. They want us to fight and bicker and be divided into camps and never agree on anything. That’s how they can keep doing whatever they want. Even better if we convince each other that talking about this stuff is taboo and unproductive.
Remember: A populace than can work together is a scary populace, if you’re in power.
I don't see how there's any value in trying to understand that because the division is built right into the premise.
That's true of most conversations - not just political ones. Why put them in a special bucket?
> The best case scenario is that talking about politics doesn’t make your relationship worse.
This is silly. There are lots of good case scenarios. Even "I enjoyed the conversation" is a good case scenario, and there are many better outcomes.
> The good outcomes of more ordinary conversation, where we learn from each other and put what you learn into action, doesn’t exist.
If you've convinced yourself an entity doesn't exist, then it will not exist for you.
Political conversations are more likely to be fun when they're discussing abstractions. But they can have real effects in a way that few other disputes can. Even though the absolute power of one vote is very small, it's not enjoyable to be told "I'm going to put my small amount of power to making your life worse."
Then I would suggest you discuss instead of debate.
> Political conversations are more likely to be fun when they're discussing abstractions. But they can have real effects in a way that few other disputes can. Even though the absolute power of one vote is very small, it's not enjoyable to be told "I'm going to put my small amount of power to making your life worse."
Many political discussions need not be that personal. This thread mentioned Israel/Palestine. I guarantee you that 99% of the people who have strong opinions about this are not at all impacted by it either way.
But yes, certainly issues about health care, taxes, guns, abortion, etc could be very personal. And that generally is a start for a good conversation. I grew up in the camp of abstract discussions, and while I still enjoy them, they're mostly useless when it comes to political/social issues. I put very little weight to well thought out analyses done in the abstract. When it starts involving real people, and clear "in your face" impact is when the conversation becomes useful. It may also become heated, too. But avoiding a heated conversation for an abstract one is not at all an improvement. And believing that a heated conversation is the only outcome is very flawed.
At best, you can hope for a genuine conversation where two extremely incomplete views come together to produce a state that is merely quite ignorant. That's an improvement, I guess. But I have a hard time getting enthusiastic about it. Especially since, if they did indeed come in with "strong opinions", the best case seems unlikely.
I myself have tried to aim for "weak opinions strongly held". Which is to say, recognize both my ignorance and the large amount of effort it would take to produce a state of genuine knowledge. I'm not kidding when I say that I have little interest in the opinions of anybody on the state of Israel and Palestine who doesn't speak at least one of Hebrew or Arabic fluently... and preferably both.
It's far from sufficient, but I find it weird how few people consider it necessary for holding strong opinions. As you say, these are real people, and if you're not able to speak their language, anything you know about it is at least one step removed -- and likely more.
Saying that honest thing as the person who can take it can be potentially damaging because it’s easy to lose the feeling for _how to say it_. Not everyone can take it the same way as _we_ take it, even when they claim they can. This kind of clarity requires trust from both sides.
Edit: it comes down to taking the ego out. Put your conscious self next to your physical self and focus on actions and emotions, not words.
I tend to be fairly direct. Some people see me as rude. Others see me as refreshing.
That has a lot to do with cultural expectations on their part.
Some people are "honest" as an excuse to be mean. There can be subtext and other things going on, especially in a group situation.
I like some saying I heard that "Those who like the brutal truth like brutality more than truth." You can usually be honest without being ugly to people (though sometimes the truth about them is what's ugly and then there's no good answer, just a least worst answer).
E.g. instead of "please stop posting excessive memes on code reviews", "when you post memes on code reviews it pollutes the timeline and makes it difficult for reviewers".
Bad: "You don't know what you're doing. This is poorly-written code that will perform badly on bigger datasets. "
Good: "The runtime of this code is prone to grow exponentially. A different algorithm will get around this. "
As much as possible I try and criticize from the viewpoint of wanting to make the work better instead of from wanting to bring down the person that did it.
Edit: To add - I will very possibly be _wrong_ about the definition of better, which is something else I try and keep in mind.
I think the big difference in the US is not (just) that people may have fragile egos, but that (pos related) the consequences are more serious - don't match up and you'll be fired.
If you have to deliver information to somebody by all means do it directly but do it thoughtfully and if necessary with some compassion.
I Didn’t Want to Offend You: The Cost of Avoiding Sensitive Questions
The valuable part is not "being direct with other people so they can be direct with me". The valuable part is "creating psychological safety so that people can be direct with me". This is much harder, because you'll need to take into account how they work. Some people need the praise sandwich, others just need to be told, others will only want to be told what's wrong if you'll also tell them how to fix it.
This comment made me think of a post by Sandy Maguire that I read a little while back (https://sandymaguire.me/blog/building-over-the-abyss/)
> When I go back and read LessWrong, I’m awestruck by the apparent dissonance between my memories of it and the material in front of me. All I can remember about reading LW is a consistent and unending stream of insights. Mind-shattering insights. When I read it now however, my experience is also consistent and unending, though instead of insights I now say “obviously – who would think this is worthwhile to write about?”
> I take this to imply that I have internalized LessWrong. I’ve learned the majority of what it was trying to impart on me, and it’s become second nature. This has made my life better.
What's obvious to you may not be obvious to others as you've internalised the earlier steps.
I also feel like the psychological safety part requires a foundation of trust (and honesty). If someone who's lied to me a bunch of times in the past is giving me feedback, regardless of how it's framed, I'm not going to trust that feedback. It's unlikely that I'll be receptive to it, even if it's totally valid
Of course, that only holds true in certain work environments where you have choices and consequences, and the person giving the feedback also has this mentality...
The entire game of getting honest feedback is making people think that if they give honest feedback then the situation will end well for them.
How feedback is asked for is completely irrelevant. What you do with the feedback might be relevant. What happens to the truth-teller after giving feedback is critical and often overlooked.
I think it can be solved by everyone working on their own triggers, and taking ownership of their own feelings, but that doesn't seem too popular, so we continue with the facade.
That said, ending the piece with an allusion to "The Road Not Taken," a poem about how meaningless decisions make you incorrectly feel like you're in control, is an odd choice.
I remember liking this poem but I never knew about this interpretation of it.
I looked it up on Wikipedia and Wikipedia agrees with you, kind of.
> It is a frequently misunderstood poem, often read simply as a poem that champions the idea of "following your own path," but rather it expresses some irony regarding such an idea.
> According to Lawrance Thompson, Frost's biographer, as Frost was once about to read the poem, he commented to his audience, "You have to be careful of that one; it's a tricky poem—very tricky," perhaps intending to suggest the poem's ironic possibilities.
> Thompson suggests that the poem's narrator is "one who habitually wastes energy in regretting any choice made: belatedly but wistfully he sighs over the attractive alternative rejected." Thompson also says that when introducing the poem in readings, Frost would say that the speaker was based on his friend Edward Thomas. In Frost's words, Thomas was "a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn't go the other. He was hard on himself that way."
And yet on a second or third or tenth reading, you start to realize that he was also writing a much more cynical poem with the opposite message. I can't even imagine how hard it is to wrap a meaning like that into the first kind of poem.
Robert Frost is frickin' amazing.
And the list of people whose judgement I trust is short indeed.
One of the better strategies is to locate a wise person and make a regular commitment to meet with them and give them permission to really dig into your motives.
The spouse is an obvious choice, but someone to whom you're not attached is also useful for this sort of thing.
This communication culture, leaches into the civilian live and then into company culture.
It also can lead to furious conflict, as those in command feel "undermined", but its hard to argue with the results and outcome. And people will not easily back down because you are the top-dog, you will have to convince them with good arguments.
Americans are not more rude on average in my experience, but they're usually more passive aggressive and use coded language. I'd prefer someone be rude to my face.
My take on this in team setting: (community of trust.. but rarely happens)
Would a fair tldr be "you need to be willing to give hard feedback in order to build the trust to actually get hard feedback"?
Thanks for letting us know!