One of the most common bits of feedback I hear from PM’s and other managers on Asian employees is this:

He/she is overly deferential and unwilling to voice opinion, even when correct or right – not a language issue – just not willing to ask questions or propose ideas consistently.”

And here are some of the common explanations I receive from Asian employees for their reluctance to speak out:

I don’t make a good first impression.

I was not the professor’s favorite in school. 

I was not 100% sure so I let the others speak. 

I have a false sense of confidence. 

I should let the seniors speak. 

I am not good at _____.

I am a little discouraged to say anything because of my English.

My idea has to be 100% perfect, or I might not feel confident.

I can see their face when I speak and their facial expression is not good!

Often the problem here is simply that each party (the manager and the employee) is unaware of how they are being interpreted by the other and what the expectations are. And in addition to this, neither party realizes this disconnect is happening! The unknown unknowns.

Obviously, some of the effort must be up to the employee – understanding the importance of their contribution, even if it is only partially ‘correct’ or not 100% accurate or valid. Recognizing that their negative inner self talk is getting in the way of vital participation can lead to a resolution of the issue. 

But the management side also has a role to play in these cases – understanding what might be going on in the mind of the Asian team member and why he or she might be holding back. Once this understanding is reached, helpful strategies can be developed to address and improve performance!