The Culture Map: Book Review

Erin Meyer’s new book, “The Culture Map,” is an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand guide to how country cultural differences can cause misunderstandings, and provides many useful recommendations  to increase productivity, employee satisfaction, and overall success in global business interactions.

Meyer’s goal is to help teach global business leaders how to bridge cultural gaps, as well as how to teach others on their team to be more successful as well.  As she writes, “The way we are conditioned to see the world in our own culture seems to completely obvious and commonplace that it is difficult to imagine that another culture might do things differently.  It is only when you start to identify what is typical in your culture, but different from others, that you begin to open a dialogue or sharing, learning, and ultimately understanding.”

To help business people better understand their own culture as well as those from others, Meyers divides world cultures into 8 different dimensions that she believes are the most relevant for successful multi-cultural business interactions:

1)      Communicating:  Direct vs. Indirect

2)      Evaluating:  Direct negative feedback vs. Indirect negative feedback

3)      Persuading:  Principles-first vs. Applications-first

4)      Leading:  Egalitarian vs. Hierarchical

5)      Deciding:  Consensual vs. Top-down

6)      Trusting:  Task-based vs. Relationship-based

7)      Disagreeing:  Confrontational vs. Avoiding confrontation

8)      Scheduling:  Linear-time vs. Flexible-time

Her framework can be used to compare any 2 different cultures, but also to map several different cultures against each other.  Throughout the book, Meyer provides many examples comparing  how people from two different cultures perceive each other, as well as specific tips to help people from different ends of the scale communicate and work together more effectively.  This is refreshing – so many so-called “cross-cultural” training classes are merely a series of anecdotes about  how Americans can better deal with people in country X (e.g., when in Arab countries, don’t hand people things you’re your left hand).

But in today’s increasingly global world, teams are often multi-cultural, so a framework is needed to help everyone communicate effectively across cultures.  And communication is always a 2-way street – it’s important not only to better understand the receiver of the communication, but also how that person reads you.

Even if you’re a natural at adjusting almost subconsciously to people from different cultures, this book is still an important read.  Perhaps the person you’re working with – or perhaps someone on your team – isn’t as adept.  Or perhaps your boss, your client, the management team back home isn’t understanding why you believe the approach or course of action they want may not be effective.  Meyers recommends starting with a culture map, and then having an open dialogue with the team members to establish ground rules as well as discuss how different cultural traits may affect negotiations or decisions.

She also reminds us that individual differences always exist, and whenever you have the opportunity, it’s equally important to take the time to learn what’s unique about that individual.  My only criticism of Meyer’s framework and book is that the touchy issues of gender and ethnicity are not discussed.  How people from other cultures filter communications based on how they frame expectations about gender or ethnic biases can be very significant in successful business interactions.  Although delicate, I believe they deserve to be addressed.

Meyer’s website also provides a useful interactive tool for comparing any 2 cultures on each of the scales, and is worth a visit:  http://erinmeyer.com/tools/.  You can also order her book there, or through Amazon.

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