Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

English and American Culture: How to Give Feedback

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Fri, May 06, 2011 @ 08:48 AM

english and american ultureTo be successful in the United States, you must understand not only the English language but English and American culture.

If you are doing business, taking a class, preparing for a test or just visiting Boston or New York, you will notice that the American culture is reflected in the English language.

One important aspect of communicating with American people is giving feedback or offering criticism.

Different cultures voice criticism in different ways. It is important to know yourself.

How do you express criticism in your home culture?

When you don't agree with someone or you see a problem with their work, how do you tell them? Do you come out and say it directly?

Do you use non-verbal communication and express your feedback indirectly so that you will not offend them?


An example of a cultural misunderstanding


Global Dynamics Inc. presented an interesting video about criticism across cultures. In the video, an American asks his German colleague for some feedback on a proposal that he has written.

While the American expects to hear a positive comment before receiving negative feedback, the German colleague goes straight to the negative aspect of the proposal.

As you can imagine, this creates a problem at work for the two colleagues. 

Based on this video and research in cross cultural communication, we know that there is a significant difference in the way that Germans and Americans give feedback.



What does this mean for an English student who is working in the US?


If you are from a country where criticism is expressed more directly such as Germany, you might want to think about cultural communication styles when you express criticism to your colleagues.

Some Americans (not all) like to give positive feedback first, then the negative comment and often finish with another positive or motivating comment.

In this post we will give you some new English phrases and vocabulary words that will help you to deliver negative feedback more smoothly to your coworkers.



How to Give Criticism in the United States


Start with something positive:

Before giving feedback that is negative to someone in the US, it is a good idea to highlight something positive first. Be specific.

For example, let's imagine a business situation. Your American colleague has just made a presentation about his research to a group of executives at your company. 

After the presentation, he asks for your opinion.

Even if you thought there were major problems with the presentation, you should start by saying something positive.


  • "I thought your introduction was very well done."
  • "I really liked the visuals that you used."
  • "The examples that you provided were excellent."
  • "I was impressed by your ability to answer those tough questions."



Next, add the point of criticism:

Try not to use the word "you". Instead you can focus on the aspect of the presentation that could be done better in the future.


  • "I noticed that the examples were missing references."
  • "It seemed like the presentation could have been more interactive."
  • "Perhaps there could have been more explanation of the research process."



Give some ideas for improvement in the future

  • "Why not try adding a few more points to your conclusion next time?"
  • "In the future, gearing the presentation toward different learning styles might be really effective"



Giving Feedback in United States Culture:


  • Say something positive first.
  • Next, add the criticism but avoid the word "you". Focus on the action that needs to change.
  • Finish with a statement that is geared toward a solution and that motivates the person to improve.


Next learn more about American business culture and the handshake!


free video lesson 7 simple secrets to connection in English


 Photo credit: o5com

Topics: English Lessons, United States Culture, English Conversation, Vocabulary Workshop

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