When the cultural differences hit you hard or The guide on how to understand Slovaks at work


We spent last weekend in the cottage with a bunch of our Slovak friends. Of course, they were interested in how are things going on in my new job. After a while, one of my friends pointed out, that now I finally get to know Finns and Finnish ways. And yes, he was right.

From the first look, our cultures are not so different. At least this is how I saw it before. I could not see it differently because the differences are seen when you are exposed to them in their complexity. And this can be done only when you are in everyday interactions with the representatives of a different culture. On the one hand, I am not saying that “my ways” are the best, most efficient or better. They are just very different in my current team and also the only ones I know. That’s why I see their advantages and that’s why I see the limits of other people’s ways.

Let’s be concrete. What are the differences? 

  1. Feedback: Slovaks = brutally honest, just saying things as they are, no beating about the bush. We don’t mean to hurt anyone. It is just that we want to be clear about what we perceive as an issue. And we want other people to be clear about it too. Disadvantage: People might be offended because they don’t share this amount of honestly. Feedback from Finns is either super positive or very blurry, that e.g. I don’t understand what people actually mean. 
  1. Praising for work done: Slovaks are not used to being praised, nor praise other people for things that are perceived as a “normal part of our job”. We thank people and praise them for something “extra”, something really “special”. Finns pay a lot of attention to praising for even small things. It is nice and friendly. From my Slovak perspective, it probably doesn’t push you to reach better results or more effective performance when what you are currently doing is being seen as an already good job. But it also creates a positive atmosphere at the workplace and people might have a better feeling, that they are being noticed. This even has another consequence: we don’t like to speak about our achievements or expertise. We believe our work speaks for ourself and there is no need to stress what are our strengths. I find Finns much more self-confident with better skills to actually sell themselves. 
  1. Slovak perspective: everything every time can be done better. We are programmed to spot the weak parts. We concentrate on what doesn’t work in the best possible way and we easily overlook what is actually working smoothly. Finns probably do it the other way round – they are more satisfied with the result already achieved, but maybe not so eager to see the weak spots. 
  1. Slovak are trained for fast thinking. Yes, fast thinking does not necessarily mean the best thinking… But we kind of have to be like this. We rarely have time to discuss things in more than two meetings. There are fewer resources and much more responsibility and demands for one worker than in Finland. Naturally, you cannot pay so much attention to one issue. Finns are different. Long discussions are needed and the discussion itself is already seen as a result. For us, discussion is just a tool and we prefer to see decisions and actions afterwards. And just to be clear, as fast thinking might not necessarily be the best thinking, long discussions don’t necessarily bring better results either…
  1. Trust: Slovaks – apriori don’t trust anyone till the trust is not earned. Finns – trust everyone till the trust is not betrayed. This is a complex issue, but it has something to do with our life under communism. Spies were everywhere and our parents were learnt not to trust anyone except our family and close friends. Although I was almost 10 when communism fell, we were soaking this idea with the mother milk. No surprise that we keep our distance. But when the trust is built, believe me, we would give you our hearts on the open palm.
  1. Management: Slovaks – like planning, clear objectives, clear division of work tasks, we like some sort of hierarchy. Hierarchy helps us to see the boss as a boss. And of course, the boss should be also a nice person, but mostly the boss is our manager. It helps also the boss to e.g. divide tasks, even unpleasant ones and also to be bossy when responsibilities are not met.  Finns don’t have much of the hierarchy. It’s super easy to approach the boss and people believe, that when you are trained professional, you should know what is expecting from you (connected with the point 5 and 2).
  1. Conflicts: Nobody likes them, but they are an inevitable part of development. It doesn’t mean we have to be shouting at each other 🙂 With the Slovak temper and saying what we actually think, it’s easy to get into one 🙂 Finns try to avoid them as much as possible, sometimes even when it would be a good thing. I have an impression, there is a lot of suppression in the culture where I currently live. I sort of understand now why there is so much attention paid to the mental health issues in Finland and why in Slovakia there is stress about cardiovascular diseases. To put it in a very simple way: Cholerics get heart attacks, introverts get depressions. 

These and much more of the cultural differences are sometimes difficult to explain. It’s difficult for everyone to suppress who you are and what ways suit you the best. But a certain amount of holding back is needed and I have to keep this in mind. But I actually also believe, that it’s possible to find a way that works for all involved parties. At the same time, I also understand how important roles leaders and managers have in diverse and multicultural teams. Maybe it would also be beneficial to occasionally open up the discussion about our differences and what impact they have on us. And most importantly how not to completely lose yourself in this whole process… And as a small joke: you can see this blog post also as a guide on how to better understand Slovaks at the workplace 🙂 

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