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What is the best way to determine if cultural barriers are preventing communication?

In my specific case, I rarely, if ever, get a response to a question I ask of international (from India) coworkers.

Obviously, I could be coming across as an "ugly American", but I honestly do not think this to be the case. I try as best as I am able to frame questions neutrally, and they are all technical in nature (e.g. how does 'x' work?, how did you fix 'y', etc.)

Could it be because I normally send questions of this sort to a group (a team in India) rather than to an individual? Usually, I get much better response when I ask an individual, but often I do not know who that individual might be, I only know what team should know the answer.

I speculate about possible cultural differences that could cause the behavior I see, but have no way of knowing if they are true or false.

Any Ideas?

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    I would consider sending the questions to the team lead and asking for a response by a particular date. Even within our own culture, I have noticed that when a question is asked of a group instead of specifying who should answer, everyone expects that someone else will deal with it. – HLGEM Jul 30 '15 at 21:39
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Could it be because I normally send questions of this sort to a group (a team in India) rather than to an individual? Usually, I get much better response when I ask an individual, but often I do not know who that individual might be, I only know what team should know the answer.

"An email to everyone is an email to no one."

As HLGEM says, this isn't necessarily limited culturally. However if you email a group who are very strongly Indian (in terms of their workplace behavior) be aware that it is unlikely anyone subordinate will reply-all.

You might as well just email the team lead and ask, until you have better relationships with the subordinates. If you don't have them, don't be surprised if you don't get responses.

In my specific case, I rarely, if ever, get a response to a question I ask of international (from India) coworkers.

Don't ask direct or yes/no questions until you have a meaningful relationship with the coworkers. Broadly speaking, "losing face" is very difficult for Indians (well really everyone, but culturally so especially there). So if you ask something that is a bad thing to answer, ie "will this be delivered on Friday?" when the answer is "not a chance" that is unlikely to get a response you are happy with.

Ask indirect questions. Ask, "how is the project going?" and then ask followup questions. Or "can you help me understand how 'X' works?"

Indians in general also value relationship in a way many American workers are oblivious to. If you ever IM with coworkers from India, I suspect many of them start it with "how's it going?" rather than starting with a question. Jumping straight into business is more difficult. It is that "ugly American who doesn't care about me" perspective.

Also, realize that if you get responses to your questions you probably are getting information that is useful but you are oblivious to it. If you ask how a project is going, and the response is "it's going but we are facing some issues" that is a HUGE WARNING SIGN that something is wrong. It's not to someone in American culture at all.

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  • I suspected it was mostly a group vs. individual issue. I do not know how familiar you are with the Scrum/Agile methodology, but my company has adopted it. It means, in theory at least, that there are no "subordinates" and no team leaders or managers. Everyone is an equal member of an autonomous team. It's been a difficult adjustment for me and, from what you say, it may be even more difficult for my Indian coworkers. – Michael J. Jul 31 '15 at 13:05
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My Indian co-workers have always been on the ball and forthcoming. This sounds like more of a corporate culture thing rather than a regional culture thing. If it is possible that there is no/poor structure around who is responsible for answering team questions. I would try emails to individuals, IMs, or phone calls. What you are doing is not working so it's time to change tactics.

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