Keeping an open mind to cultural differences is necessary to perform successfully in business across countries, so why don’t more people study up ahead of time? One common pitfall is thinking that culture ultimately doesn’t matter, or that noticing cultural norms is a more socially acceptable method of labeling stereotypes. Everyone has their own unique individual personality, right? Of course they do, and that is absolutely important to remember.
However, failing to gain an understanding of differing cultural standards will leave a person in the mindset to contextualize every interaction within the framework of their own culture, whether they realize they’re doing this or not. Learning about habits, behaviors, and attitudes from cultures outside our own can give us a foundation to work up from when attempting to connect to people unlike ourselves. Empathy goes a long way, as does patience and sincere effort.
Author Erin Meyer takes us on a journey through her own life of being fascinated with the way other people view the world from a very young age, teaching in a variety of countries, and her work at INSEAD, a highly acclaimed business school specializing in bringing together a diverse set of students and faculty for the purposes of international business development and cultural understanding. Meyer expresses that in her time as a teacher there, she has been a student in many ways as well. Her continual interactions with a wide variety of people have given her a rare opportunity to study and collect data points to further expand her knowledge on cultural differences and similarities every single day.
Meyer proposes eight key areas that managers should be aware of to maximize team effectiveness.
Communicating - Low context vs. High context
Evaluating - Direct negative feedback vs. Indirect negative feedback
Persuading - Principles first vs. Applications first
Leading - Egalitarian vs. Hierarchical
Deciding - Consensual vs. Top down
Trusting - Task based vs. Relationship based
Disagreeing - Confrontational vs. Avoid confrontation
Scheduling - Linear time vs. Flexible time
All of these qualities are positioned on a scale with a range. This is how the data captures personality variables and incorporates them as opposed to considering anything outside a fixed point to be an outlier, thus steering away from stereotyping. Viewing results in this manner can provide an idea of what is within the range of normal and what may be considered unusual when interacting with any individual personality representing a cultural group.
Another factor to accounted for is that we view every other culture through the lens of our own, and what this means for viewing this type of research is that one must be careful when speaking in absolutes and addressing statements contextually.
For example, rather than saying a particular country is “confrontational,” look at how they are positioned to your own country comparatively. You may find that while said country is more confrontational in the way they handle disagreements than your culture finds acceptable, you may both be positioned quite low on scale as a whole. This is a way in which our own perceptions can cloud understanding.
People who grew up in the US could easily view Finland as a high-context communication culture. However in a global scope both the US and Finland are low-context cultures. The US is the lowest context culture in the world.
Erin Meyer paints fascinating pictures of cultural exchanges in business between countries that are as far apart on some scales as can be imagined, and the challenges some countries face even though they seem like they should be relatively similar, due to being close on one of the eight scales. The reasons friction occurs are addressed so that the reader can be confident not to make easily avoidable blunders. Anyone in any business can benefit from the lessons in The Culture Map. The ideas are broadly applicable and the advice can be utilized effectively even when dealing with tension on a more micro-scale, such as two people from different cultures within the same country.
The Culture Map entertains as readily as it informs, so don’t miss out.
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