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  • Writer's pictureSapana Gupta

UPGRADERS and DOWNGRADERS

🇩🇪 Christina, a German project manager, was called into her boss's office to go over her current project.


🇬🇧 Her British boss left her with the feedback to “perhaps think about” taking a different approach.


Christina—accustomed to direct feedback—didn't realize this was a polite British way of giving an order and expressing, "do this".


After the meeting, Christina thought about the feedback, decided she didn’t like it, and continued the project as she’d initially planned. Her British boss, however, read this behavior as rather insubordinate, perceiving Christina as deliberately ignoring instructions.


This scenario highlights a crucial aspect of international business communication: the use of what linguists call UPGRADERS and DOWNGRADERS when giving negative feedback.


✨ In direct cultures (like Germany or the Netherlands), upgraders (e.g., "absolutely," "totally," "strongly") are often used to emphasize negative feedback: "Das ist absolut falsch" (That’s absolutely wrong).


✨ Conversely, more indirect cultures (which include many Asian and Latin American countries, but also the UK) prefer downgraders (e.g., "kind of," "maybe," "a bit") to soften criticism: "That’s not quite right."


If you search 'Anglo-Dutch Translation Guides', you’ll find several humorous examples that show how the British use downgraders and the miscommunication that can result from them in cross-cultural interactions (in this case, with the Dutch). Below I’ve collected a few—can you see how these little cultural differences may lead to confusion?


The point isn’t necessarily to understand every culture’s unique way of communicating, but rather to recognize that there ARE differences. Start by understanding your own culture’s communication style. This self-awareness can help you be more mindful of the words you use and how they may be interpreted differently by others, leading to more thoughtful communication—and a deeper understanding of another culture can further strengthen business relationships and foster better collaboration.



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