Looking back at my week in Tokyo with all its cultural differences, e.g. the punctuality, the group culture, the clean streets but no garbage cans, the mouth caps to protect others and yourself, Japanese people skipping a lot of words, and to understand them you need to know the context, et cetera, I think reading The culture map – Decoding how people think, lead, and get across cultures written by Erin Meyer was a good way to use my time when I flew back at an altitude of 38000 ft from Tokyo, Narita airport to Amsterdam, Schiphol.
It’s an easy to read and entertaining book with numerous examples from her own experience to understand how cultural patterns of behavior and belief frequently impact our perceptions (what we see), cognitions (what we think), and actions (what we do). The purpose of this book is to improve your ability to understand these three aspects of culture and to improve your effectiveness in dealing with them. If you want to build and manage global teams that can work together successfully this book will be a great tool with lots of strategies and advices to support you.
The author developed an eight-scale model to help to improve your effectiveness. Each of the eight scales represents one key area that managers must be aware of, showing how cultures vary along a spectrum from one extreme to its opposite.
The eight scales are (see the figure with Japan and the Netherlands plotted on these scales):
- Communicating: low-context vs. high-context
- Evaluating: direct negative feedback vs. indirect negative feedback
- Leading: egalitarian vs. hierarchical
- Deciding: consensual vs. top-down
- Trusting: task-based vs. relationship-based
- Disagreeing: confrontational vs. avoids confrontation
- Scheduling: linear-time vs. flexible-time
- Persuading: principles-first vs applications-first (does not plot all world cultures as the concept of applications-first and principles-first only applies to western environments. Asian cultures, for example, are Holistic and neither Applications-first nor Principles first)
The culture map (source: www.erinmeyer.com/tools)
When examining how people from different cultures relate to one another, what matters is not the absolute position of either culture on the scale but rather the relative position of two cultures. It is this relative positioning that determines how people view each other. E.g. Japanese people see Dutch people deciding more top-down. But if you compare deciding between the Netherlands and Belgium, the Netherlands are more consensual and Belgium more top-down.
Each scale is described in a separate chapter with many, many examples to explain the different extremes from the spectrum and strategies and actionable advices how to cope with these people. Sometimes very specific rules or behavior are given. E.g. the “Law of Jante” (leading, Denmark),Ringisystem (deciding, Japan), Guanxi(trusting, China).
Mapping the communication scale against the evaluating scale gives four quadrants. Particular cultures can be found in each of these quadrants and the book explains different strategies for effectively dealing with people from each.
Mapping the disagreeing scale against a second scale that measures how emotionally expressive a culture is will help to understand that emotional expressiveness is not the same thing as comfort in expressing open disagreement.