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What is The Culture Map about? What are Erin Meyer’s eight axes for measuring cultural differences?
In her book The Culture Map, cultural communication expert Erin Meyer presents a framework you can use to analyze how cultures differ from yours as well as practical strategies to mitigate any cultural misunderstandings. She also explains why these cultural differences developed in the first place.
Below is a brief overview of her key points.
The Eight Ways to Measure Cultural Differences
In an increasingly globalized world, understanding other cultures is an essential business skill. In her book The Culture Map, Erin Meyer presents eight axes you can use as a framework to analyze these differences: Communication, Feedback, Thinking, Leadership, Decision-Making, Trust, Disagreement, and Time Perception.
Meyer positions countries on each axis, each of which represents a range of possible behavior between two extremes. Each country’s position represents the midpoint of acceptable behaviors in that country, which Meyer contends is enough to account for both individual and regional differences within a country. (Shortform note: Meyer bases these positions on anecdotes and personal experience. Her lack of outside research may be due to the difficulty of empirically measuring cultural differences: Cultural factors would influence any study methodology, so the study would be flawed.)
By understanding both your own and another culture’s position on each axis, you can relate to each other better so that you can accomplish your business goals. You are also better able to evaluate others accurately: You learn which misunderstandings are due to cultural differences instead of incompetence. (Shortform note: The idea that you can’t evaluate a culture’s position on the axis independently is known as cultural relativity. Don’t confuse this with cultural relativism—“the ability to understand a culture on its own terms and not to make judgments using the standards of one’s own culture.”)
Meyer visually represents the axes in a “culture map.”
(Shortform note: Some reviewers find Meyer’s culture map overly complicated and confusing. We’ve modified and streamlined the culture map to make it easier to interpret and use. You can find Meyer’s map by reading The Culture Map or purchasing access to her mapping tool on her website.)
In this guide, we’ll explain each axis, how these differences developed, and strategies you can use to mitigate any cultural differences.
Axis #1: High-Context vs Low-Context Communication
Meyer defines the two extremes of communication as high-context and low-context.
Meyer defines low-context cultures as cultures where people communicate and receive messages at face value. The speaker explicitly states all relevant information because it’s her responsibility to communicate her message clearly. In contrast, high-context cultures don’t communicate at face value—rather, you read between the lines. These people share cultural understandings about etiquette, so the speaker doesn’t need to be explicit; the listener is responsible for decoding the underlying meaning. (Shortform note: Meyer uses the terms high- and low-context only to describe how people communicate messages. Their original usage was much broader, encompassing views on relationships, territory, time, and more.)
According to Meyer, language is one factor that shapes a culture’s communication style. Higher-context languages share several features that make ambiguous statements more possible, including a low number of total words and a high number of words that can have multiple meanings. The opposite is true for lower-context cultures: Their languages have a high number of total words and fewer words that can have multiple meanings. English-speaking countries cluster at the low-context end of the axis, countries that speak Romance languages cluster in the middle, and Asian countries cluster toward the high-context end of the axis. (Shortform note: Meyer’s assertion that language shapes culture is supported by the story of Korean Air, who made in-air communications lower-context by switching their language from high-context Korean to low-context English.)
The other defining factor is history: Low-context cultures tend to be younger and ethnically heterogeneous, so there are fewer cultural norms that are universally understood. In contrast, high-context cultures tend to have a long history and be ethnically homogeneous. As such, Meyer posits, they’ve had more time to develop social norms and unspoken rules of communication that are universally shared within the culture. (Shortform note: This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Meyer considers India a high-context country. India has a long shared history, but it’s also extremely diverse and uses English as a common language.)
Strategies for Communicating Across Cultures
Meyer’s strategies for communicating in lower-context cultures all involve speaking more explicitly than you might be comfortable with. Ask questions when you’re unclear on the meaning and to ensure your message has been properly delivered. (Shortform note: Try, “Do you have any questions?”) Recap what was said at the end of the meeting and follow up with an email. (Shortform note: Email etiquette varies between cultures, but try following the email etiquette of the U.S., the world’s lowest-context culture.)
In contrast, Meyer’s strategies for higher-context communication mostly involve interpreting the message and understanding your own unintentional hidden messages. Ask open-ended questions to clarify your understanding—even in places you wouldn’t normally think to, like scheduling. Pay attention to subtext by listening carefully and looking at body language. (Shortform note: Just be careful. Body language differs among cultures, and active listening may be too explicit for higher-context people to be comfortable with.) And explain why you’re writing things down—this may be viewed as a sign of distrust in higher-context cultures. (Shortform note: Alternatively, avoid writing this down unless absolutely necessary.)
But according to Meyer, the most potential for miscommunication lies between two people from different high-context cultures: Both look for subtext, but the cultural norms by which that subtext is informed differ drastically. Ensure your team’s success by having your team create a low-context communication method. Clearly articulating the communication method before you do any work will help prevent potential misunderstandings. (Shortform note: Meyer states that the team members need to understand why the low-context process exists, but she doesn’t explicitly state why the team members need to create the communication method. Presumably, members need to help create the method so they fully understand what they need to do. If someone else creates the process, high-context individuals may still look for hidden messages into why they’ve been asked to communicate this way.)
Axis #2: Direct vs Indirect Negative Feedback
Meyer defines the two extremes of feedback, or evaluation, as direct and indirect negative feedback.
According to Meyer, people from cultures that prize direct negative feedback state negative feedback clearly and explicitly. In contrast, Meyer states that cultures that use indirect negative feedback tend to deliver their messages in a subtler manner, often couching these messages in positive affirmations and using words to mitigate their feedback. But it’s so subtle that the receiver might not register the feedback as negative at all. (Shortform note: Negative feedback has several benefits, such as potentially improving your argument. Indirect feedback may be even more effective because you have to take more initiative to learn from and implement it.)
Strategies for Giving Feedback Across Cultures
When giving feedback, Meyer recommends some generally applicable strategies: First, explain how your culture normally provides feedback so that others can interpret your feedback in the way you intended. Second, don’t try to imitate the other culture. As an outsider, you don’t understand the subtle rules of etiquette every culture has or other factors (like hierarchical leadership) that complicate how cultures deliver feedback. (If you’re in a direct negative feedback culture, you can try using one extra strengthening word, like “totally.”) (Shortform note: Meyer repeats both these strategies throughout her book, suggesting that transparency and respectful imitation are essential cross-cultural business skills.) Finally, when you receive direct negative feedback, copy these cultures and view directness as a sign of respect instead of getting offended. (Shortform note: If you struggle with this, learn to cultivate a growth mindset.)
A culture’s place on the communication spectrum complicates effective feedback delivery. For example, the U.S., the U.K., and Canada present unique challenges because they’re low-context cultures that fall in the middle of the feedback spectrum. In these cultures, Meyer recommends that you make your positive feedback as clear as your negative feedback, finding even the smallest element to praise truthfully. And time your feedback strategically by always expressing your positive feedback first and maintaining a 50-50 ratio of positive to negative feedback. (Shortform note: Your employees may still struggle even if you follow these strategies: After all, Americans may prefer a 80-20 ratio of positive to negative feedback.)
Similarly, If you’re in a high-context culture with indirect negative feedback, Meyer suggests three main strategies. First, deliver your feedback gradually so your subordinate can piece the picture together on their own. Secondly, take the focus off the feedback by taking the subordinate out to lunch—making feedback the crux of the conversation intensifies it. Finally, don’t mention the negative. By praising only the positive, your subordinate will infer your negative feedback. For example, praise the thing they did well in the first half of the meeting that they struggled with in the second half. (Shortform note: If you’re not confident in your ability to follow these strategies effectively, deliver your feedback in writing instead, which may be more comfortable for high-context, indirect-feedback cultures.)
Axis #3: Empirical vs Theoretical Cultures
Meyer first divides how cultures think into two categories: holistic (or dialectical) and specific (or analytical). She then divides how Western cultures think into two extremes on her axis: empirical (applications-first) and theoretical (principles-first).
Dialectical vs Analytical Thinking
In cultures that think dialectically, people tend to focus on the overall situation. Instead of focusing on individual elements, they emphasize the relationships between individual elements. In business, this focus on relationships is evident in longer responses to questions (because they’re focused on the big picture, people might present related information first before giving their final answers). Meyer suggests that most Asian cultures think dialectically because of the Chinese philosophies that influenced them. These philosophies tend to value balance between individual elements. Furthermore, they consider objects in context instead of considering the object independently. (Shortform note: Alternatively, Asian countries may tend toward dialectical thinking because of their high-context communication styles. Since high-context cultures have few explicit communication rules, these cultures consider many factors at once when determining how to act. As such they’re far more used to encountering contradictions—which results in a greater acceptance of contradictions and a tendency to think dialectically.)
In cultures that think analytically, people tend to focus on the individual element or action. Unlike dialectical cultures, they de-emphasize the surrounding circumstances. (Shortform note: In business, you might see this in how people from these cultures evaluate risk—they “expect…the world to be stable” since they focus on only one element.) Meyer argues that the analytical thinking of Western countries derives from Western philosophy, which assesses objects independently without necessarily considering them in the overall context. (Shortform note: Alternatively, the “social orientation hypothesis” suggests that cultures that prize independence tend to think analytically, while cultures that prize interdependence tend to think dialectically.)
Theoretical vs Empirical Thinking
Meyer also divides analytical Western cultures into two types: theoretical and empirical. Theoretical thinkers trend toward deductive reasoning when they persuade—so they’ll first formulate a general hypothesis from which they deduce a conclusion. In business, a cultural pattern of theoretical thinking translates to a heavier emphasis on the reasons behind a problem. Conversely, empirical thinkers use inductive reasoning—they look at the data first and then they draw conclusions. In business, a cultural pattern of empirical thinking translates to a heavier emphasis on applying practical solutions to problems. (Shortform note: Both reasoning styles have their benefits, such as when teaching a language. Inductive approaches may be better for learning grammatical structures that repeat, but inconsistent grammatical patterns benefit from more deductive approaches.)
Meyer argues that several factors influence how a culture thinks, notably their education and philosophy. Empirical Anglo-Saxon countries were heavily influenced by the philosophers Roger Bacon and Francis Bacon, who popularized empirical thinking. (Shortform note: Despite their similar names, Roger Bacon and Francis Bacon were total strangers who lived centuries apart.) Conversely, theoretical Latin European countries still teach children to persuade with a three-step Hegelian method (thesis, antithesis, and synthesis) that the children grow to expect as adults. (Shortform note: Interestingly, philosopher Friedrich Hegel didn’t enumerate the method into 3 steps.)
Strategies for Presenting Information Across Cultures
Meyer suggests several ways to alter your presentation style to convince different kinds of audiences with different ways of thinking:
- Provide specific details about each project to analytical thinkers. (Shortform note: But not too much, which will bore them.)
- Tell dialectical thinkers how their project will impact their coworkers. (Shortform note: You could also try appealing to their sense of duty to some broader unit (family, company, country).)
- Use more case studies when presenting to empirical thinkers. Include practical examples when presenting to theoretical thinkers, too, but spend more time on theory and prepare for more theoretical questions. (Shortform note: If this involves a different type of thinking than you’re used to, practice. Can you think of theoretical questions to ask? If so, you’ll be better able to answer them.)
Axis #4: Hierarchical vs Egalitarian Leadership
Meyer contends that you can divide leadership styles into two extremes: egalitarian and hierarchical. In egalitarian cultures, everybody is equal—even in the workplace. Companies tend to have flat organizational structures, and people treat each other the same regardless of rank. Conversely, rank matters in hierarchical cultures. Companies have strict levels, which employees follow by deferring to the higher-ranking individual. In exchange for obedience, the boss protects and cares for her employees—especially in Asian cultures.
(Shortform note: So which one is better? Most people think that they’ll prefer egalitarian leadership styles. But in actuality, one Stanford study suggests that people prefer hierarchical leadership styles because the familiarity of hierarchical relationships makes them easier to understand. Whereas egalitarian relationships can be confusing to navigate, in a hierarchy, everyone’s roles and level of authority are clear.)
Meyer hypothesizes that the leadership style of a culture reflects the ideals of the religions, philosophies, and empires that historically dominated them. For example, modern-day egalitarian cultures are historically Protestant (a religion that values the individual’s relationship with God), while modern-day Western hierarchical cultures are historically Catholic (a religion strictly governed by the hierarchical Roman Catholic Church). (Shortform note: Meyer’s argument is supported by the fact that several key features of Protestantism elevate the role of the individual, while, historically, even the rulers of Catholic countries had to answer to the Pope and were thus bound by hierarchy.)
Strategies for Leading Across Cultures
Meyer separates her strategies both by the culture’s leadership style and your rank in that culture. If you’re working in a hierarchical culture, pay attention to the various ways people express rank. Call people by their last name unless indicated otherwise. (Shortform note: Since many hierarchical cultures have language tenses that indicate politeness, when speaking English, using last names may be the few immediate ways you can show respect.) Conversely, if you’re working in an egalitarian culture, get comfortable speaking to everybody (Shortform note: Comic visualization can help you feel less intimidated.)
If you’re leading in a hierarchical culture, mentor and protect your subordinates well—their obedience isn’t permission to treat them poorly. (Shortform note: This ideal may be universal, as one article attributes it to the American 1967 business book Organization in Action.) Similarly, understand that people won’t feel as comfortable around you as you might be used to. Strategies like informing people before a meeting that you’ll want their opinion will help them prepare how to present them in advance. (Shortform note: You could also try soliciting anonymous opinions with a dummy email account, so people can express their thoughts without fearing that they’ll disrespect you.)
Conversely, when leading in egalitarian cultures, work to establish that you’re “one of the guys.” You can use external cues to indicate this, like dressing more casually or using first names. (Shortform note: Social mirroring suggests that we unconsciously copy people we like, so subtly copying others can make them like you.) Meyer also suggests that acting as a facilitator both in meetings and when helping employees set objectives will help your employees feel more comfortable. (Shortform note: Meyer recommends facilitating goal-setting as part of the 5-step Management by Objective method, a framework originated by management expert Peter Drucker. Modern-day versions of this framework usually recommend setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic, and Time-Bound) goals.)
Axis #5: Consensus vs Individual Decision-Making
Meyer suggests that decision-making styles range across two extremes: consensual (which we’ll call consensus) and top-down (which we’ll call individual).
In countries that decide by consensus, the group takes everyone’s opinion into account. All the relevant parties consider all the information, and they make a decision only when everybody agrees. (Shortform note: Meyer doesn’t specifically define consensus, which is generally defined as almost unanimous with some dissenting opinions. Acceptable dissent differs by country, so learn what consensus means where you’re working.) So decisions take a long time but are final once made. (Shortform note: This long decision-making process could have serious financial detriment.)
In countries that decide individually, the decision-maker may consider others’ opinions, but ultimately, the individual (usually the boss) makes the decision. These cultures tend to make decisions quickly and early in the proces. But even after it’s made, the decision remains flexible and open to change based on new information or new opinions. (Shortform note: This may also be a feature of low-context cultures. Some suggest that low-context cultures are more likely to notice how objects differ, so they’re also more likely to believe that a ‘best choice’ exists. As such, they might be more open to changing their decisions.)
Mostly, hierarchical countries decide individually, and egalitarian countries decide by consensus. (Shortform note: Meyer also discusses some notable exceptions, like Germany and Japan, whose decision-making styles may have influenced the industries they dominate.)
Strategies for Making Decisions Across Cultures
Meyer’s strategies for working in cultures that decide by consensus mostly involve getting used to how much time decisions take and using that time to your advantage. She recommends building time for a longer decision-making process into your schedule and practicing patience when talks stall. She also suggests fostering positive relationships with your business partners so you’re not surprised by the decision, as well as making sure you’re comfortable with the process being used. (Shortform note: Make this process more comfortable by building trust with your business partners and holding your meetings in places conducive to reaching a consensus. And study how your unconscious assumptions might influence your comfort with the process.)
In contrast, Meyer’s strategies for working in cultures that decide individually mostly involve understanding your role on the team. If you’re not the leader, check your ego—don’t get offended when people don’t ask your opinion, and follow all decisions even when you disagree. If you are the leader, make decisions faster than you’re used to—others’ opinions are valuable, but if you wait too long you’ll come across as inefficient and weak. (Shortform note: Meyer recommends more strategies based on the culture’s leadership style here.) And no matter your rank, always remain flexible because decisions can almost always be changed. (Shortform note: Try becoming more flexible by practicing radical open-mindedness.)
Axis #6: Cognitive vs Personal Trust
Meyer divides trust-building methods into two extremes: task-based, which we’ll call cognitive, and relationship-based, which we’ll call personal.
According to Meyer, in cognitive cultures, trust develops based on behavior—like whether someone’s good at their job. Business relationships remain professional and don’t bleed into personal connections. In contrast, the cornerstone of business relationships in personal cultures is affective or personal trust—the trust that people of all cultures feel towards their family and friends. So while people build relationships slowly, this connection lasts across jobs. (Shortform note: Researchers suggest that trust has three parts: competency, honesty (or integrity), and benevolence, the idea that someone is acting in your best interests. It’s likely that although both types of cultures value honesty, cognitive cultures place a higher value on competence and personal cultures place a higher value on benevolence.)
Meyer suggests that the legal systems of cultures inform how they build trust. Cognitive cultures tend to have established legal systems: If someone wrongs you, you can sue them and reasonably expect justice, so your personal relationship isn’t that important. (Shortform note: Lawsuits aren’t common: People worry that if they sue their employers, they might never get hired again.) In contrast, personal cultures tend to have less reliable legal systems: Even if someone wrongs you, suing them wouldn’t help. By investing time into building your personal relationship upfront, you’re better able to assess their character and feel more confident that they won’t exploit you should something go wrong. (Shortform note: Other benefits of investing time into your work relationships may include more engagement at your job.)
Strategies for Building Trust Across Cultures
Meyer’s strategies for building trust in cognitive cultures mostly involve efficiency: Shorten your meals to under 90 minutes and pick efficient ways to communicate like emailing instead of calling. (Shortform note: Try choosing your communication method based on how quickly you need an answer.) However, her strategies mostly focus on building affective trust, which she contends are more generally useful: Personal relationships are better-suited to working cross-culturally because people are more likely to forgive and teach you about your inevitable cultural error. (Shortform note: Studies show that affective trust is beneficial in cognitive cultures, too.)
Meyer’s strategies for building affective trust mostly involve ways to connect with the other person. If you can, visit, and socialize by spending time on meals, finding mutual interests to bond over and turning your professional self off when you go out. If you can’t visit, spend more time on the phone and follow the other person’s cues by letting them direct how the phone calls progress. (Shortform note: Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have been working remotely, making in-person visits difficult and presenting unique challenges for building affective trust. Some strategies include creating a virtual hang-out space or video chatting to feel more bonded to one another.)
Axis #7: Open Disagreement vs Disagreement-Avoidant Cultures
Meyer divides disagreement styles across two extremes: “confrontational,” which we’ll call open disagreement, and “avoids confrontation,” which we’ll call disagreement-avoidant.
According to Meyer, cultures that disagree openly view disagreement as good for the group. Disagreement is inevitable when ideas are freely exchanged, as they must be for innovation to occur. People disagree with you frankly and publicly, but these open disagreements aren’t viewed as personal attacks. (Shortform note: Just as cognitive cultures tend to have reliable legal systems, cultures that disagree openly may as well: If damaging your personal relationship doesn’t strongly affect your business dealings anyway, more open disagreement would likely be acceptable. In support of this, many cultures that disagree openly also develop trust cognitively.)
In disagreement-avoidant cultures, openly disagreeing with someone will harm your relationship. Disagreement is bad for the group and is viewed as a personal attack because it causes people to lose face. In these cultures, people express disagreement subtly and privately. (Shortform note: Stella Ting-Toomey, who developed face-negotiation theory in 1985, was the first to propose that all cultures care about their ‘face,’ or image, but use different behaviors to protect or attack it—an idea Meyer also expresses in her book.)
Meyer suggests that a culture’s disagreement style reflects the philosophy that influenced it. Cultures that disagree openly teach the Hegelian method in school, which influences how they disagree as adults. (Shortform note: Meyer only cites the Hegelian influence in France, but the fact that other theoretical countries also disagree openly suggests the Hegelian influence on disagreement style is broader.) Similarly, disagreement-avoidant Asian countries reflect Confucian beliefs about society: people must follow their prescribed roles in society or else society breaks down. So to disagree openly with someone is to suggest they’re not being true to their prescribed role and is thus far more taboo. (Shortform note: Meyer doesn’t discuss why Latin American and Middle Eastern cultures avoid disagreement, calling them only “sensitive and easily bruised.” Historically, both regions highly value honor and experience public shame, which may explain why they avoid public disagreement in the modern world.)
Meyer suggests that most cultures that disagree openly are equally open with their emotions, while disagreement-avoidant cultures are emotionally reserved. However this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule: While all of us express emotions in our faces and mannerisms, their frequency and intensity is dictated by culture. (Shortform note: The rules that govern these norms are known by psychologists as “cultural display rules.”)
Strategies for Disagreeing Across Cultures
To evaluate where a culture lies on the disagreement spectrum, ask yourself: How much would openly disagreeing with someone harm your relationship? Ignore how emotionally open they are.
Meyer also suggests that different cultures have three different overarching ideas about the purpose of meetings, so you should adjust how you disagree accordingly. In cultures that meet to formalize a decision, disagreeing at the meeting is too late— do so privately well before the meeting takes place. In cultures that meet in order to make a decision, expect to leave with an answer even if some debate occurs. Finally, in cultures that meet to learn about what you’re deciding on, expect vigorous, open debate. (Shortform note: Meyer’s idea that meetings have three purposes has limited outside support and is based on her own unpublished survey data. However, When Cultures Collide also suggests that different cultures have meetings for different reasons.)
Axis #8: Monochronic vs Polychronic Time Perception
Meyer divides time perception, which she calls scheduling, across two extremes: linear-time, or monochronic, and flexible-time, or polychronic.
According to Meyer, monochronic cultures value a fixed, linear schedule. These cultures focus on one thing at a time and value punctuality (although lateness is generally acceptable up to a point). They run on “clock time,” eating lunch at noon because it’s noon. By contrast, polychronic cultures work on several things at once, adhering to schedules only broadly. They run on “event time,” eating lunch when they’re hungry. (Shortform note: A third way of perceiving time may be “cyclical time”: Time runs in cycles, so decisions aren’t as unique since the opportunity will always come again.)
A great way to evaluate how a culture perceives time is to look at how it approaches meetings. Monochronic cultures follow a previously defined agenda, remain engaged throughout the meeting, and disapprove of tangents. Polychronic meetings are more flexible: Topics change based on that day’s priorities. Multiple conversations occur simultaneously as tangents crop up and the relevant individuals discuss it. Participants aren’t expected to focus on the meeting at the expense of all other priorities. (Shortform note: Is one more productive than the other? Although studies argue that multitasking destroys productivity, they’re mostly held in the monochronic U.S. and may not apply to polychronic cultures. And monochronic meetings aren’t necessarily better: Death by Meeting presents several strategies for making meetings less tedious.)
Meyer suggests that cultures perceive time differently based on how industrialized they are. More predictable cultures tend to be more monochronic. In these cultures, governments run reliably and natural disasters rarely inhibit your business. According to Meyer, this is because the Industrial Revolution caused people to prioritize punctuality: if you were late, the factory didn’t run properly and you cost the company money. (Shortform note: Hall originated the idea that monochronic cultures began with the Industrial Revolution.)
In contrast, cultures may become polychronic because their countries are unpredictable. When governments are unreliable and natural disasters shut down your business, companies and managers succeed by adapting to unpredictable circumstances and by keeping employees loyal in times of hardship. When relationships and adaptability take priority, schedules become less important and thus more flexible. (Shortform note: In fact, one paper suggests that polychronism may inhibit industrialization by contributing to corruption and inefficiency.)
Strategies for Scheduling Across Cultures
Meyer recommends several generally applicable strategies to use when working with cultures that perceive time differently. First, adjust your schedule to the other culture, especially when you’re the visitor. This may take time to get right, so experiment until you find what works. Secondly, If you’re leading a team, set clear expectations about scheduling among team members to reduce frustration. Finally, withhold judgment. Scheduling is particularly vulnerable to cultural superiority, as both types think the other’s way is wrong. But the only correct way to perceive time is the one that works for you. (Shortform note: These strategies are all applicable more broadly to dealing with other cultures. Meyer may pinpoint them here partly because adjusting your schedule is easier than adjusting other ways you do business or because people are particularly judgmental about scheduling.)
What to Keep in Mind to Work Effectively Across Cultures
In her epilogue, Meyer describes how you can use the axes to compare cultures. Specifically, Meyer recommends looking at all eight axes simultaneously. Evaluate where each culture lies on each axis. Then, ask yourself: On what axes are these cultures similar? Where are they furthest apart?
In order to mitigate the frustration caused by cultural differences, focus your attention on the axes that lie furthest apart. Follow the strategies presented in this book to prevent misunderstandings from forming and/or address issues that have already begun.
(Shortform note: Meyer uses the visual of the “culture map” to help the reader combine these scales. While visual learners may find this helpful, it’s not necessary, and may be visually confusing, to draw a line connecting all the axes. It’s sufficient to look at each of the eight axes independently to evaluate which need the most attention.)
Meyer also recommends several general strategies for working across cultures. For example, she suggests that when people understand that their culture influences how they work, they become better at working with people from different cultures. So talk about these cultural influences, making sure to use grace, humility, and humor throughout the conversation. (Shortform note: If the idea of having such a conversation intimidates you, try explaining why it could be mutually beneficial.)
Of course, such a strategy only works if you understand your own culture. This is another essential strategy Meyer recommends: Only when we first understand how our culture is unique in some capacity can we appreciate and work with the differences in other cultures. (Shortform note: Meyer focuses exclusively on national cultures. But looking at what other kinds of cultures—our gender and generation, for example—have influenced us is also an essential business skill.)
Finally, remember that while culture is an essential piece of the puzzle, it is only a piece. Our personalities aren’t defined exclusively by culture, but we are all heavily influenced by the cultures we grew up in. So in an increasingly globalized world, the ability to discern between individual quirks and evidence of a cultural pattern is an essential leadership skill. While this can be greatly challenging, it can also be greatly rewarding, as you learn new practices and ways of thinking that enrich your life.
(Shortform note: If culture is just another piece of the puzzle, it follows that learning to become a better leader in general can also improve your effectiveness at managing people across cultures. But as we’ve seen, effective business leadership differs among cultures, so following traditional Western business advice may backfire. We’ve previously suggested reading business/leadership books from the country you’ll be working with. But for more generally applicable leadership advice, consider reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Since the original text is geared towards military conflict in Asia, you may find it easier to interpret these strategies to fit an intercultural context than you would a regular business book.)
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- The eight axes you can use as a framework to analyze cultural differences
- How to better relate to those of another culture to accomplish business goals
- How the Vikings have more gender equality than we see today