The Culture Map – Erin Myer

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The world is becoming increasingly smaller, and never has it been truer than today, where technology has enabled more effective ways of building personal and professional relationships across the globe. Myer examines how an awareness of cultural nuances, as we navigate conversation across countries, can help in both business and personal interactions.

As businesses are becoming more multi-national, there is a need to better understand how cultures influence the way in which business is undertaken. Being mindful of how cultural context plays out in any engagement can mean the difference between business failure or success. Hence, this aspect should form part of the preparation for any business meeting, negotiation, or communication strategy.

On a personal level the ability to enrich an interaction with someone from a different cultural background to yourself, is key for developing solid relationships. Also, to be able to interact and operate in a respectful and authentic manner can help create stronger relationships faster. All these themes are examined in the Culture Map, where Meyer shares some practical insights of how to become more culturally aligned to drive more successful dialogue, and outcomes.

Big Messages/Key Quotes:

  • To master the art of constructive conversation, there is a need to be able to “read the air”. This comes from the Japanese style of interacting with others, and refers to looking beyond the words to understand what is being said or communicated
  • Most conversation styles across the globe can be characterised as high-context or low-context. In high-context cultures, which are typically observed across Asian regions, there is a need to interpret beyond the words used and look for non-verbal cues or body language to decipher intent. In contrast low context cultures, such as those observed in America, it’s all about listening for what is directly said. In the low context culture, if you are in this situation try and be clear, concise, and direct in your use of words to communicate your intent
  • The contexts should also be considered when giving feedback, whether this is positive or negative in nature. Here the contexts play out as direct and indirect. If we have at look at Israel, here feedback can be very direct, and can come across as harsh but the intent is never ambiguous! In contrast in cultures like Japan, the indirect feedback style is normally so subtle it can be missed. Here the “sandwich” method of giving feedback is used extensively, where 1 piece of negative feedback is normally sandwiched in between lots of positive praise
  • Combining context and feedback styles results in 4 permutations of cultural communication-based interaction, or either high/low context and direct/indirect feedback. It is worth noting which you are functioning within to ensure that unintended communicational mishaps are avoided, or least mitigated when they do occur. This framework also works for conscious calibration of style when faced with individuals from different backgrounds to your own, and allows for a more respectful dialogue to take place and be appreciated
  • A similar framework can also be used to examine influencing, or the ability to manage a negotiation/presentation across cultures. Here there is also a scale, or spectrum, that comes into play covering principle-first (deductive and a need to know the why) and application-first (inductive and how something can be done) reasoning. Having insight of these areas is key when dealing with multi-country teams or driving sales with international clients. Additionally, identifying the types of organisational constructs that exist also help to inform key leadership decisions; this is particularly useful when looking at relatively flat organisations across Europe, which vary in contrast to more hierarchical organisations found in the east
  • Trust is widely recognised as being especially important in all business relationships. The process to gaining, maintain and building trust also varies across cultures. Having an awareness of how trust works across different cultures is a key element of achieving success in business ventures that span different countries.
  • Myer examines two aspects of trust, namely Cognitive trust, and Affective trust. Cognitive trust is established for good reason, in that it is based on a history of demonstration, i.e., when teams have worked together for a long period of time. This means each has proved themselves to be honest, reliable, dependable over a period, so trust follows. Affective trust is a “trust of the heart” i.e., based on care and consideration, and is that trust that is established through an emotional bond. This trust barometer can also be looked at as high-task (typically observed in the Netherlands or the US, and typically in northern Europe) to high-relationship (found in China, India and in the main the eastern cultures), and again these manifest differently across cultures
  • The ability to be able to respectful when disagreeing with notions or ideas, also need to be handled with care. In more confrontational cultures, like those observed in France, people can differentiate between the person and the idea. Hence, even after a heated disagreement, there is typically no dilution of the relationship. In more emotionally inexpressive cultures, like Japan, open disagreement is seen as hostility towards the person, and seen as a personal criticism. In the inexpressive culture, it is much better to get alignment of ideas “offline”, and do these conversations outside of the meeting…public disagreement is frowned upon in this case
  • The last element of cultural understanding is all to do with timekeeping, and the implications of being punctual or not. It is good to understand which nations or cultures are rigid on timing and which are more flexible. This can help to demonstrate respect, so it is worth bearing in mind which countries and cultures, like Switzerland, are very particular about timekeeping, versus countries like India where it is more acceptable to be more relaxed with punctuality

Why read this book?

Operating a business is becoming more complex, as more interactions are international and remote. This means there is a higher margin for error with things becoming lost in translation. This book is a great place to start if you are operating across markets, and want to drive more successful business interactions, and hence successes. This thinking can also be applied to building successful multi-country teams. Packed with great insights and practical toolkits that are easy to apply in day-to-day cross-cultural dialogue. A must read for all international business leaders, or individuals looking to improve how they communicate more effectively and respectfully when travelling.


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