Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
Sign up Log in
Deleted user
0 / 0 points
badges earned

Your Points Tracker
  • Global
  • Feed

Badge for your thoughts?

You're enrolled in our new beta rewards program. Join our group to get the inside scoop and share your feedback.

Join group
Give the gift of kudos
You have 0 kudos available to give
Who do you want to recognize?
Why do you want to recognize them?
Great job appreciating your peers!
Check back soon to give more kudos.

Past Kudos Given
No kudos given
You haven't given any kudos yet. Share the love above and you'll see it here.

It's not the same without you

Join the community to find out what other Atlassian users are discussing, debating and creating.

Atlassian Community Hero Image Collage

Translating "I'm Sorry" Across Cultures

As I wrap up an MBA course on working across cultures, there's one idea that I know I'll hold onto particularly tightly as I continue through my career.

We probably all know how to say I'm sorry in multiple ways. I know how to say it in English (my language) and French (je suis désolée) and Luxembourgish (but please don't ask me how to spell it!). And all that's fine and good, but it's literal.

There's a separate cultural connotation applied to those apologies, so that an apology means different things in different places.

In a 2012 article published by the Harvard Business Review, four professors from institutions around the world shared their findings of a study. This study had several interesting findings:
- Japanese undergraduate students apologized more than twice as often as their American peers.
- Indian students fell between the two countries, apologizing more often than the American but less often than the Japanese students.
- Undergraduate students in Hong Kong apologized even more often, but the effect seems to be "watered down" in that they also valued an apology least of all the students studied.
- Of all the groups studied, Americans were least likely to "repair" a relationship upon receiving an apology.

There's a reason for this: in America, an apology is seen as an admission of guilt. Which is exactly why you'll see our politicians saying things like "mistakes were made," that avoid identifying exactly who made the mistake. American businessmen and -women will want to understand all elements of a situation or problem before choosing to apologize. For other cultures, this response is much too slow.

In Japan, by contrast, an apology indicates the desire to correct a wrong or repair a relationship, without necessarily implying guilt. During a conflict, their apology is more likely to mean "we'll help you fix this." For that reason, an American's reluctance to apologize can make them sound like they don't value the relationship.

There are deeper connections to this relationship to apologies, like how collectivist vs. individualist a culture is, too. These nuances weave their way through our countries' histories and public policies and, eventually, the way each member conceives of their role in the world. Deep, right?

But, what that means for me, an American student, is the following: I will be faster to express my support and care for others, especially in conflict.

My impulse might not be to instantly apologize, but the more quickly I can say "wow, that's a problem — I want to help fix it," the more any relationship American or otherwise will benefit, right?

If you've had any unique experiences where an apology feels mistranslated, I'd love to hear! All the messy human-ness of doing business is really fascinating, in my opinion.



Log in or Sign up to comment
Community showcase
Posted in Teamwork

What questions/topics do you have on organizational transformation?

Atlassian is looking for your questions on organizational transformation. We often talk about issues that affect our immediate teams or share best practices on relationship management. But, we ...

293 views 5 6
Join discussion

Community Events

Connect with like-minded Atlassian users at free events near you!

Find an event

Connect with like-minded Atlassian users at free events near you!

Unfortunately there are no Community Events near you at the moment.

Host an event

You're one step closer to meeting fellow Atlassian users at your local event. Learn more about Community Events

Events near you