The Culture Map
Erin Meyer is an American professor at INSEAD who specialises in international and cross-cultural management. Her book “The Culture Map” provides business people with what is quite simply the best available guide to working or managing across cultures.
A lot of Professor Meyer’s writing will sound familiar to students of Geert Hofstede, but her approach is broader, and very impressive to this Hofstede fan. Meyer has expanded on Hofstede’s work and a broad range of academic study to create a set of eight sliding scales against which cultures can be mapped. These eight factors look at how cultures view (or act in) communicating, evaluating, persuading, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing and scheduling. Taken in combination, they are an excellent framework through which to understand different cultures, and Professor Meyer provides personal experiences to reinforce her message. In fact, her self-effacing writing style makes the book a very easy read.
But the reader should make no mistake – this is not a light treatment of a serious subject. Professor Meyer gets to the root of any number of misunderstandings by providing insights and practical suggestions for action, making this book extremely valuable. What particularly impressed were some key observations beyond the immediate. For example, many (western) writers discuss the need for someone from a “low context” culture (for example, an American) to be careful when listening to someone from a “high context” culture (for example, a Japanese person) speak, because of the hidden meanings that might get missed. Very few writers have pointed out the corollary – when speaking, the “low context” person should also be aware that the “high context” person may well be inferring meanings that are not there because he or she is looking beyond the surface meaning.
Perhaps the single most telling insight was that the most dangerous pairing in terms of potential for misunderstanding is two “high context” people from different cultures. This is because the implications and inferences they make are based on their own cultural context, so unless they are aware of this danger – and because much of the communication is unspoken – the potential for misunderstanding is much higher.
The book is full of useful and practical advice, but most importantly, it is a fantastic guide to communicating and managing across cultures.