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Have you ever struggled to connect with someone from a different culture? We frequently interact with people from diverse backgrounds in our increasingly globalized world. While diversity can lead to creativity and innovation, it can also result in confusion and misunderstandings. This makes effective cross-cultural communication ever more crucial for success in today’s globalized environment. In The Cultural Map, cultural communications expert Erin Meyer presents a framework for navigating cultural differences. In this free version of The Culture Map summary, you will learn how cultural norms vary across different countries, and how you can improve your communication skills, especially when working with international teams.

What is The Culture Map about?

In a multicultural business environment, it’s essential to consider both individual and cultural differences. By analyzing business challenges worldwide, Erin Meyer identified 8 cultural dimensions that significantly impact multicultural interactions and business outcomes.

The Culture Map summary - 8 Cultural Dimentions that impact business by Erin MeyerThis summary explains these dimensions, which are represented on 8 scales with 2 extremes:

  1. Communicating: Low-context vs high-context communication;
  2. Evaluating: Direct vs indirect negative feedback;
  3. Persuading: Principles-first vs applications-first reasoning;
  4. Leading: Egalitarian vs hierarchical leadership;
  5. Deciding: Consensual vs top-down decision-making;
  6. Trusting: Task-based vs relationship-based trust;
  7. Disagreeing: Confrontational vs avoids confrontation; and
  8. Scheduling: Linear-time vs flexible-time orientation.

What are the 8 Scales of the Cultural Map?

The 8 cultural dimensions illustrated above can be plotted on 8 scales. The key is to look at cultural relativity, not absolutes, so we understand how people from one culture might see another culture differently.

The Culture Map summary - example of how the 8 scales show cultural relativity

For example, the Germans are higher in context than the Americans, but much lower in context than the Chinese and Japanese. What does this mean? Let’s find out.

COMMUNICATING: Low-Context vs High-Context

Different cultures convey and interpret information in different ways.

Direct vs. Nuanced

In low-context cultures, messages are explicitly expressed and received at face value. They’re often  repeated to ensure clarity. Good communication means being clear, detailed, precise, and direct. Anglo-Saxon countries skew toward this end of the spectrum, with the lowest context being the U.S., Australia, and Canada.

In high-context cultures, communication is nuanced with multiple layers. Messages are often conveyed via non-verbal cues and subtle signals. Good communication means listening/reading between the lines and understanding unspoken messages. Asian countries skew toward this end of the spectrum, with
Japan, Indonesia, and Korea being the highest context.

The Culture Map Erin Meyer Communicating Scale - Low Context vs High Context Cultures

Written vs. Oral

High-context cultures tend to rely on oral communication, while low-context cultures prefer written documentation.

Such differences can lead to misunderstandings. For example, people from low-context cultures may seem overly direct, impolite, or patronizing to their high-context counterparts. On the other hand, people from high-context cultures may seem guarded or unclear, leading their low-context counterparts to think, “Why can’t you just say what you mean?”

Tips for Communication Across Cultures

In high-context cultures, pay attention to nonverbal cues. Talk less, listen more, and ask clarifying questions. Invest time to nurture relationships and learn the subtleties of communication. For example: People seldom say “no” directly. Instead, they might say, “We will think about it” or “This might be difficult, but I’ll do what I can.” Pause to gauge their response before repeating yourself or continuing to speak. Use humor or self-deprecation to seek a more direct response. You can say, “I’m really bad with timelines.”

In low-context cultures, communicate clearly, explicitly, and directly. For example: Verbally state your points and provide detailed explanations to avoid ambiguity. Don’t stay silent when you receive an email request–it’s better to reply within 24 hours to say “I need more time to review this and will get back to you next week.”

Now, let’s briefly outline the remaining cultural scales. Do check out our full 17-page version of The Cultural Map summary, for specific details and examples of all 8 scales and how to apply them.

EVALUATING: Direct vs Indirect Negative Feedback

Different cultures handle negative feedback differently. Cultures that are direct with negative feedback share them honestly, frankly, and even bluntly.  Other cultures are indirect with negative feedback: They deliver the feedback subtly and diplomatically.

In our full version of The Culture Map summary, we (i) address these nuances using Meyer’s map, (ii) further explore the communicating-versus-evaluating scales into four quadrants, and (iii) provide tips for communication in direct vs. indirect feedback cultures.

PERSUADING: Principles-first vs Applications-first Reasoning

Different cultures reason and persuade differently.  Application-first cultures prefer to start with the “how.” They usually begin with a conclusion, solution, or opinion and explain the concepts later only if necessary. On the other hand, principles-first cultures prefer to start with the “why.” They start by understanding the underlying theories and concepts and gradually build up to a conclusion.

Our full version of The Culture Map summary covers three approaches to improve your persuasive skill and increase your chances of winning people over. This includes a unique approach for Asian cultures.

LEADING: Egalitarian vs Hierarchical Leadership

In egalitarian cultures, bosses and subordinates have little or no distance. In contrast, in hierarchical cultures, status is important. A great boss leads from the front and maintains some distance from subordinates. Find out the best ways to present yourself in different cultures, like knowing when not to skip organizational levels to become a more culturally-aware and effective leader.

This dimension mirrors Geert Hofstede’s Power Distance Index, which addresses respect for authority, norms about skipping layers in a company, and what gives an aura of authority.

DECIDING: Consensual vs Top-down Decision-making

In consensual decision-making cultures, people from different groups/levels are consulted to reach a unanimous agreement. In top-down decision-making cultures, decisions are usually made
by leaders and followed without challenge.

While Egalitarian cultures often use consensual decision-making and hierarchical cultures use top-down decision-making, there can be exceptions. For instance, Japan is hierarchical but uses a consensual approach (Ringi-system).

TRUSTING: Task-based vs Relationship-based trust

In task-based cultures, trust is built when people like working with you and see that you consistently deliver quality work. In relationship-based cultures, trust is built when people know you personally (or know others who trust you).

DISAGREEING: Confrontational vs Confrontation-avoiding

In confrontational cultures, open debates are encouraged for creativity and sound decisions. In confrontation-avoiding cultures, the priority is to preserve group harmony.

Emotional expressiveness is often confused with willingness to engage in open debate, and we address this in another 4 quadrants in our full 17-page summary.

SCHEDULING: Linear-time vs Flexible-time orientation

Linear-time cultures approach tasks sequentially, finishing one task before starting the next. They value order and punctuality. Flexible-time cultures approach tasks fluidly, adjusting as circumstances change.

Getting the Most from The Culture Map

The 8 dimensions above reflect how culture impacts business, and how different countries fall on the spectrum. You can use the 8 scales to map out the cultures of your team members or business partners, to make cultural differences explicit, thereby making it easier to identify challenges/opportunities and to bridge these gaps.

If you are ready to learn more about the 8 cultural dimensions and reflect more on how they impact business, do check out our full book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 17-page text summary, and a 27-minute audio summary!
The Culture Map summary - Book Summary Bundle

In this book, Erin Meyer combines extensive research, real-world case studies, and practical examples to show us how to optimize teams and create opportunities for people from different cultures to interact. Her use of anecdotes, charts, and diagrams makes it easy to understand complex cultural concepts. You can purchase the book here or visit Erin Meyer’s website for more details.

For more on culture dynamics in business, check out our free summary of Organizational Culture and Leadership by Edgar Schein, which explains how leaders can influence, establish, and transform culture in organizations.  Or, The Fearless Organization which explores fostering growth and psychological well-being in dynamic environments.

About the Author of The Culture Map

The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business was written by Erin Meyer. She was born in 1971 and is an American author and professor at INSEAD Business School in France. She has worked widely with many global leaders and organizations, such as the World Bank, the
United Nations, KPMG, Google, and Sinopec, and speaks regularly on crosscultural management and global teamwork. Check out her website to learn more about the complexities of culture in multicultural environments and to access cultural mapping tools.

The Culture Map Quotes

“You may be considered a top-flight communicator in your home culture, but what works at home may not work so well with people from other cultures.”

“When interacting with someone from another culture, try to watch more, listen more, and speak less.”

“If you don’t understand, it’s my fault.”

“Far from being universal…the art of persuasion is one that is profoundly culture-based.”

“People from all cultures believe in ‘constructive criticism.’ Yet what is considered constructive in one culture may be viewed as destructive in another.”

“Managed with care…cultural and individual diversity can become your team’s greatest asset.”

“Sometimes just a few words of explanation framing your behavior can make all the difference in how your actions are perceived.”

Click here to download The Culture Map infographic & summary


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