Even though the physical borders are closed during the COVID-19 era, the digital world has seen an enormous advancement and removed almost all digital borders. People who already challenged in an international business environment are working from home and facing another set of difficulties. However, cultural diversity is still in place, as before. This contrast doesn’t have to end in battles anymore, thanks to Erin Meyer. In her book, The Culture Map, she discovers the cultural differences to help us learn how our own culture differs from others. She explains how each culture is unique, even though they are geographically close.
Meyer’s methodology is different than the others we’ve seen before. Instead of researching cultures separately, she creates eight scales to compare them. Each topic is carefully selected. They all enable us to see where our culture stands in communication, feedback, persuasion, decision, trust, disagreement, and time management. There are two goals in every single scale, maintaining high productivity and having clear communication.
Many books and magazines are covering these two goals and eight topics in businesses. However, all of them lack bringing them together under the culture headline. In an international business environment, it’s hard to increase productivity without understanding our own culture and comparing it with the culture we’re doing business with.
Clear communication is the first topic in the book because of its closest relation with high productivity. There are two essential skills in communication, listening, and speaking. But, one is more substantial than the other in some cultures. Knowing when we should listen more or talk more is what makes us a good communicator. For example, in one culture (high-context culture—as she mentions in the book), if we have to tell we made a joke, it wasn’t worth the effort to say the joke itself. In contrast, culture (a low-context one), Meyer gives a strategy and says, “Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them.” There are other strategies for both ends of the scale and how to create excellent communication in multicultural collaborations.
Another scale in the book is evaluating—providing negative feedback. Some cultures are more open to giving direct negative feedback than others. In indirect cultures, words that soften the criticism are often used, such as kind of, sort of, maybe. In contrast, words like absolutely, and totally are used more frequently in direct cultures. One surprising thing is in some low-context cultures—the one we need to talk a lot—giving indirect negative feedback is preferred, such as the United Kingdom.
Both communication and evaluation point us to the leading scale, placing egalitarian on one side and hierarchical in another. Germany is located in the middle more closely to hierarchical despite having explicit (low-context) communication and direct negative feedback. What makes Germany different than others is having a bit more hierarchy doesn’t mean that we cannot criticize our boss openly in public. On the other hand, Brazilians prefer more implicit (high-context) communication and hide their negative feedback between words (indirect negative feedback). Still, their organizations are as hierarchical as Germany.
While we discover each culture’s uniqueness under eight scales in the book, Meyer uses a clear language. Carefully selected words create beautiful sentences and shape the authenticity of the book. She organizes and explains these eight scales meticulously to build up the logical structure. We are hooked to the topic from the beginning and enjoy every single word.
We cannot interpret other people without knowing our own culture. We should explore our own culture first and open our emotional borders to others after. Meyer gives us different insights into different cultures. This helps us to create empathy and, therefore, boosts our understanding of each other. Meyer drives us into a better life in a borderless digital world. We can achieve both high productivity and clear communication goals easier in both international business and personal life. Anyone who would like to discover empathy should read this book and enjoy the peace.