I got an email from one of my long-time subscribers about getting poor work delivered.
I wanted to share it with you because it talks about something you may have observed with some of your OFS. If they make a mistake, they’ll do anything else to save face rather than confront and fix it.  Like it’s easier to pretend that the problem isn’t there, or it’s not a problem, or disappear rather than fix it.

If you haven’t read my mindless work series yet, best to read that first too so you’ll get the whole idea.

One of my team members explained that shame and saving face are a big cultural thing in the Philippines that can drive people to do things like lie and take actions that may not be good for the team or the business. For example, we have customer service knowledge articles that are poorly written and need improvement.

I need our team to grow and improve themselves – I don’t have time to police everything and direct ever area that requires improvement and growth. But, now I’m concerned that one reason it may be difficult for them to make improvements is out of saving face and not wanting someone to feel shame if a template / article that a team member wrote needs to be edited or improved.

In my American way of thinking, it’s shameful for the company as a whole to provide poor experience for our customers or inadequate information. This is just one area of a number I can think of that this shame/save face concept might be harmful to the business.

Is this something that could be leading team members to deliberately not help improve and grow the business because they are fearful of shaming themselves or others if something is wrong or insufficient? How can I help counteract this and help the team desire to improve and grow the business to help our customers.

Here’s Julia’s take on it.

Culturally, we’re not encouraged to be direct. It’s considered rude. Hints and signals are considered more “polite,” but it can also be confusing if people don’t understand our culture. These are remnants of our past as a colonized country (you’re punished when you speak up) and our upbringing as a Catholic, patriarchal country (don’t talk back to parents or superiors).

This leads to a lot of miscommunication because we’re so afraid of being direct. Being direct is rude because it implies you think you’re better than everyone else, so we communicate mainly through social cues and hints.

When our cues aren’t read properly, we get embarrassed.  We feel frustrated because we’re not understood, and we misunderstand things. Instead of talking it out and airing out concerns, the tendency of some people is to do everything they can to save face to preserve what’s left of their pride.

This is why we often tell jobseekers it’s best to be upfront and frank when talking to potential employers. We explain that our version of being polite and respectful is detrimental if you want a good relationship with your employer. We tell them that speaking up isn’t rude and would be better in the long run.

Here’s my take on it.

Culturally they don’t want to be wrong. Nobody does, but this is especially strong in the Philippines.  So if there’s a chance they’re going to be wrong (which would cause them to lose face), they’d rather not attempt it, or work on it, or do anything towards it.

“This article is poor…should I improve it?”

“Why? – I might be wrong and then I’d make something that’s already correct…incorrect.  Then I’d get in trouble and and make a fool of myself and be embarrassed and lose face and get fired.”

at least…that’s often their thinking.

How to overcome this?  Wow…we’re talking about hundreds years of history.

Try giving a job title and responsibility. When they have a stated responsibility they’re more likely to step up.
Try asking them to think more…in a really nice way.
Try explaining the consequences to the business if things are done poorly.
Try explaining that you want it to be their responsibility to make things great, not yours.