Directness and politeness

To many foreigners, Russians sometimes might come across as too rude and too direct.   For example, a typical feedback from a Russian client, might even upset one as being too critical, too negative, at times jumping straight to the point with no “hello” or “thank you”.

However, let me tell you, more often than not, this is not a sign of rudeness, as the person in question is not intending to deliberately upset you. They are just being direct, which is another feature of the Russian culture.

As a rule, Russians do not generally believe in understatements, softening the truth or coded speech, and prefer not to waste time on pleasantries. If something needs to be changed, they would say it outright. This would be their way of being sincere and honest.

On the contrary, if something is great, Russians might not mention it and might not say “thank you”, because, in their view, “this goes without saying”. Having worked as account manager (read: a culture mediator), liaising between a Russian client and the UK creative team, on top of communicating over the client’s (very direct) feedback, I often had to add “That said, all in all the client is happy with how the things are going”, as this was indeed the fact. It’s just that it was not put in writing!

Having lived in the UK, I have quickly become aware that one cannot be overly polite here. However, you can indeed in Russia! If you say too many “Thank you”, “Please” or “Sorry”, this would make you come across as insincere, fake, flaky, and even weak! Russians believe in being direct, outspoken and assertive, and tend to value this more than strict adherence to etiquette.

Maybe for this reason, politeness in Russian culture can be expressed without pronouncing words like “Thank you” or “Please”, as a lot could be expressed by the tone of voice.

Too much smiling and exclamations like “Everything is fantastic!” or “Great job, team!” are foreign to a Russian ear, and would more often than not cause irritation. Russians perceive it as superficial, which is something that is opposed to their system of cultural values, where depth is, perhaps, the cornerstone.

By this time, you are probably guessing there is no small talk in Russian context, and you are guessing it right! Russians do not believe in small talk and generally perceive it as “trivial”, “flaky” and “shallow”. Try having a conversation with a Russian, and you will see that it will progress into a deep conversation about the meaning of life at the blink of an eye!

Have you ever come across something similar? Have you ever dealt with a Russian client?






  1. Nghi Dang says:

    Hi, I have never worked with a Russian before but maybe doing a studying project together still counts? I live in Finland (not a Finn) so I sort of understand the culture of no small talk, or “cold face” shown to strangers. I am still puzzled though, in my own past experiences, of how to deal with situation in which you work with many Russians at the same time and you cannot get them to communicate in English? I mean they did not all the time speak Russian only, but they shared many private conversations as such, which might make the others confusing. Besides, according to what you wrote about giving compliments to Russians might not be accepted well, would you recommend us to do or say anything different to still illustrate our point of praising and giving compliments? 🙂 Thanks.


  2. Natasha Aksenova, Intercultural Expert says:

    Dear Nghi, thanks for your comment! I am sorry to hear about the experience. I used to live in Germany and saw that happen at times, when there were many people from the same country in a group/a room, and they would all switch back to their native language at some point. I guess it just feels easier, especially when you are tired, but to others this might certainly feel uncomfortable and confusing! It’s difficult to come up with any exact recommendations in this case, as I don’t know your group personally, and as you understand a lot depends on the personality. I think it’s not so much the case of a certain nationality, rather than group psychology. I guess the way around this might be about splitting the “Russian group” up and mixing them up with everyone else, so that they all had different tasks?This is what I usually do in my training sessions, when there are 2 people having a lengthy private conversation during the training, carrying on no matter what and disrupting everyone else’s training.
    Compliments-wise, Russians love compliments, just like everyone else, so feel free to praise them when you feel like it! If you become their friend, they would open up to you, and they make very loyal and warm-hearted friends. By the way, they would be less inclined to speak Russian when there are non-Russian-speakers around, so perhaps it’s another way to deal with the situation above?
    Hope this helps – feel free to message me if you have any questions!
    Also, I’ll be posting more on Dealing with Russians, so feel free to subscribe to my blog, so that not to miss it!



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