Building on my previous article, Bridge the Language Gap: Keys to Successful Offshoring with a Fractional COO (Part 1)... Let's delve deeper into how cultural nuances, particularly around apologies, can influence team morale and business operations in offshoring environments.

The Power of "Sorry" (and When Less is More):

In British culture, apologies are all too common.

We readily utter "sorry" for minor inconveniences.

This is in stark contrast to many other cultures. And it can lead to misunderstandings when working with offshore teams.

Here's an example from my own experience: Apologies and Ukrainian Culture

As with Part 1, we'll use Ukrainian teams for illustration purposes, as I have a fair chunk of experience working between the UK, US and Ukrainian teams.

Ukrainians are generally less inclined to offer apologies.

Their language is more literal, and an apology often translates to a sincere admission of fault.

It's literally saying, "I am fully responsible, it was my fault and I take ownership".

Imagine a server outage caused by a faulty component.

A typical English support response might be:

"I'm sorry your service is down. We're working on the issue and will update you within 15 minutes."

While this seems reasonable to a native English speaker, a Ukrainian team member might interpret the apology as taking full responsibility for the situation, despite it being outside their control.

This could lead to feelings of being singled out or blamed, potentially impacting morale.

This is exactly what happened in the teams I worked with!

Systems & Processes need work too!

A sample canned response, hard coded into the Service Management system in such a situation might be something along the lines of:

“I am sorry that your service has experienced this outage. Rest assured that we are working on the issue. I will contact you within the next 15 minutes with an update".

To an English speaker that would be perfectly fine.

To a native Ukrainian without a deep and comfortable understanding of the English language, particularly with the nuances of conversational English.. They would often take exception to the use of the word 'sorry' in this context.

As Ukrainian is a particularly literal language, an apology is just that - a personal apology for what has happened.

In the above example, personally apologising for the component breaking and taking full responsibility for the situation, even though it was not their fault and outside of their control.

Placing ourselves in their shoes, how would we feel if we were asked to apologise (and actually mean it) for something we did not do or could not control...?

Native English speakers would not commonly apologies and take responsibility for issues for which they are not responsible.

It makes you think doesn't it.

We would potentially feel victimised as a result, singled out, marginalised.

Morale would most certainly be impacted.

And should the situation be discussed more widely it may even go as far as all out mutiny. I exaggerate of course but you see my point.

I have had instances where Offshore teams have point-blank-refused to use a canned response for this very reason...

Claiming 'But it is not my fault!'.

When speaking to them through a bi-lingual colleague, they instead wrote their own response.

“<Business Name> is sorry that your service has experienced this outage. Rest assured that our teams are working on the issue. We will contact you within the next 15 minutes with an update".

You see the difference?

Optimizing Communication for Improved Outcomes:

A Fractional COO, with an understanding of cultural differences, can help bridge this gap. Here's how:

  • Understanding Non-Confrontational Language: By recognising the potential for misinterpretations, a Fractional COO can guide teams towards more neutral phrasing, much as I just exampled above.
  • Adapting Communication Styles: Simple adjustments, like replacing "sorry" with "appreciate the frustration" in the example above, can significantly improve communication.

A Chief Operating Officer, or Fractional COO, understands the importance of clear and concise communication for operational efficiency. By fostering a culture that values cultural sensitivity, they can ensure offshore teams feel empowered and valued, ultimately leading to better customer service and improved business outcomes.


Understanding cultural nuances around apologies is just one example of how language and communication styles can impact offshoring.

In future articles, we'll dig further into strategies to bridge the communication gap and ensure a successful offshoring experience.

Check out Part 1:

Bridge the Language Gap: Keys to Successful Offshoring with a Fractional COO (Part 1)

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