The Culture Map

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„The Culture Map“ is a book by Erin Meyer that explores the ways in which cultural differences can impact communication and collaboration in the global business world. The book argues that cultural differences can have a significant impact on how people communicate and make decisions and that it is important for individuals and organizations to be aware of these differences in order to effectively navigate cross-cultural communication and collaboration.

Take aways

Here are my top 10 takeaways from „The Culture Map“:

  1. Culture influences how people communicate, make decisions and lead and follow.
  2. High- and low-context cultures differ in the amount of explicit communication that is required for effective communication.
  3. Individualistic and collectivistic cultures differ in the degree to which they value the needs and goals of the individual versus the group.
  4. Masculine and feminine cultures differ in the degree to which they value assertiveness and direct communication versus cooperation and indirect communication.
  5. High-power distance cultures have a hierarchical power structure, while low-power distance cultures have a flatter power structure.
  6. Individualistic cultures tend to value individual achievement and autonomy, while collectivistic cultures value group harmony and interdependence.
  7. Masculine cultures tend to value competition and achievement, while feminine cultures value quality of life and relationships.
  8. High-context cultures rely more on nonverbal cues and relationships for communication, while low-context cultures rely more on explicit communication.
  9. High-power distance cultures tend to have more formal communication styles and decision-making processes, while low-power distance cultures tend to have more informal communication styles and decision-making processes.
  10. Understanding and adapting to cultural differences can improve communication and collaboration in the global business world.

 

Quotes

“This pattern is puzzling because Americans often do tend to be more explicit and direct than the French (or, more precisely, more “low-context”)

“When I give a performance review, I always start by going through three or four things I feel the person is doing well. Then I move on to the really important part of the meeting, which is, of course, what you can do to improve. I hate to jump into the important part of the meeting without starting with the positives. Is that method okay for you?”
Simply explaining what you are doing can often help a lot, both by defusing an immediate misunderstanding and by laying the foundation for better teamwork in the future”

“Today, whether we work in Düsseldorf or Dubai, Brasília or Beijing, New York or New Delhi, we are all part of a global network (real or virtual, physical or electronic) where success requires navigating through wildly different cultural realities. Unless we know how to decode other cultures and avoid easy-to-fall-into cultural traps, we are easy prey to misunderstanding, needless conflict, and ultimate failure.”

“If your business success relies on your ability to work successfully with people from around the world, you need to have an appreciation for cultural differences as well as respect for individual differences. Both are essential.”

“Cultural patterns of behavior and belief frequently impact our perceptions (what we see), cognitions (what we think), and actions (what we do). The goal of this book is to help you improve your ability to decode these three facets of culture and to enhance your effectiveness in dealing with them.”

“The eight scales are:
•  Communicating: low-context vs. high-context
•  Evaluating: direct negative feedback vs. indirect negative feedback
•  Persuading: principles-first vs. applications-first
•  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”

“The culture sets a range, and within that range, each individual makes a choice. It is not a question of culture or personality, but of culture and personality.”

“It is this relative positioning that determines how people view one another.”

“the traditional American rule for successfully transferring a powerful message to an audience: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them.” This is the philosophy of low-context communication in a nutshell.”

“To use a sous-entendu basically means to say something without saying it. For example, if a man says to his wife, “There are a lot of calories in that toffee ice cream you bought,” his sous-entendu may be “You have gained some weight, so don’t eat this ice cream.” He has not explicitly said that she is getting fat, but when he sees her reach down to throw a shoe at him, he will know that she picked up his sous-entendu.”

It’s all relative

“what matters is not so much the absolute positioning of a person’s culture on a particular scale, but rather their relative positioning in comparison to you.”

“When Chinese vaguely express an idea or an opinion, the real message is often just implied. They expect their conversational partner to be highly involved and to take an active role in deciphering messages, as well as in mutually creating meaning. In Chinese culture, pang qiao ce ji [beating around the bush] is a style that nurtures an implicit understanding. In Chinese culture, children are taught not to just hear the explicit words but also to focus on how something is said, and on what is not said.”

“It is important not to form opinions too quickly,” Díaz suggests, “to listen more, speak less, and then clarify when you are not sure if you understood. You might need to work through another local person in order to get the message deciphered. But if you feel confused, work to get all the information you need to pick up the intended message.”

“Multicultural teams need low-context processes.”

“The list of ground rules developed by Galvez’s group was simple but effective. Three levels of verification would take place at the end of any meeting:
•  One person would recap the key points orally, with the task rotating from one team member to another.
•  Each person would summarize orally what he would do next.
•  One person would send out a written recap, again on a rotating basis.”

The Many Faces of Polite

“People from all cultures believe in “constructive criticism.” Yet what is considered constructive in one culture may be viewed as destructive in another. Getting negative feedback right can motivate your employees and strengthen your reputation as a fair and professional colleague. Getting it wrong can demoralize an entire team and earn you an undeserved reputation as an unfeeling tyrant or a hopelessly incompetent manager.”

Why Versus How

“The art of persuasion is one of the most crucial business skills.”

“In Germany, we try to understand the theoretical concept before adapting it to the practical situation. To understand something, we first want to analyze all of the conceptual data before coming to a conclusion. When colleagues from cultures like the U.S. or the U.K. make presentations to us, we don’t realize that they were taught to think differently from us. So when they begin by presenting conclusions and recommendations without setting up the parameters and how they got to those conclusions, it can actually shock us. We may feel insulted. Do they think we are stupid—that we will just swallow anything? Or we may question whether their decision was well thought out. This reaction is based on our deep-seated belief that you cannot come to a conclusion without first defining the parameters.
Hupert’s time in the United States taught him that Americans have a very different approach. They focus on practicalities rather than theory, so they are much more likely to begin with their recommendations.”

“TWO STYLES OF REASONING: PRINCIPLES-FIRST VERSUS APPLICATIONS-FIRST”

“The Hegelian dialectic begins with a thesis, or foundational argument; this is opposed by an antithesis, or conflicting argument; and the two are then reconciled in a synthesis.”

“Raised on the applications-first principle of Get to the point quickly and stick to it, they got through paragraph one and, seeing no clear point up front, moved the e-mail message to their “read at some undefined date in the future” file.”

“One British colleague told me that, if my e-mail doesn’t fit on the screen of an iPhone, it risks not getting read,” The moral is clear. Presenting to Londoners or New Yorkers? Get to the point and stick to it. Presenting to French, Spaniards, or Germans? Spend more time setting the parameters and explaining the background before jumping to your conclusion.”

“Effective leadership often relies on the ability to persuade others to change their systems, adopt new methods of working, or adjust to new trends in markets, technologies, or business models. So if you are a manager of a team whose members come from a culture different from your own, learning to adapt your persuasive technique to your audience can be crucial.”

HOLISTIC THINKING

“Ancient Chinese thought was holistic, meaning that the Chinese attended to the field in which an object was located, believing that action always occurs in a field of forces that influence the action. Taoism, which influenced Buddhism and Confucianism, proposes that the universe works harmoniously, its various elements dependent upon one another. The terms yin and yang (literally “dark” and “light”) describe how seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent.”

How Much Respect Do You Want?

“Once you understand the power distance messages your actions are sending, you can make an informed choice about what behaviors to change. But if you don’t know what your behaviors signify, you’ll have no control over the signals you send—and the results can be disastrous.”

“The countries most influenced by the Vikings consistently rank as some of the most egalitarian and consensus-oriented cultures in the world today. So it is no surprise that, even today, when you walk into a meeting room in Copenhagen or Stockholm, it is often impossible to spot the boss.”

“When all is said and done, humans are flexible. Most of the time, if managers take extra pains up front to discuss how they are going to communicate, many painful and costly faux pas can be avoided entirely. The problem comes when both parties proceed, as Rangan and Peterson did, as if their style was normal and the other party was wrong. Once they understood the other’s behavior, things moved along well. ”

“If you are working with people from a hierarchical society:
•  Communicate with the person at your level. If you are the boss, go through the boss with equivalent status, or get explicit permission to hop from one level to another.
•  If you do e-mail someone at a lower hierarchical level than your own, copy the boss.
•  If you need to approach your boss’s boss or your subordinate’s subordinate, get permission from the person at the level in between first.
•  When e-mailing, address the recipient by the last name unless they have indicated otherwise—for example, by signing their e-mail to you with their first name only.
If you are working with people from an egalitarian society:
•  Go directly to the source. No need to bother the boss.
•  Think twice before copying the boss. Doing so could suggest to the recipient that you don’t trust them or are trying to get them in trouble.
•  Skipping hierarchical levels probably won’t be a problem.
•  In Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Australia, use first names when writing e-mails. This is also largely true for the United States and the United Kingdom, although regional and circumstantial differences may arise.”

“In today’s global business environment it is not enough to be either an egalitarian leader or a hierarchical leader. You need to be both—to develop the flexibility to manage up and down the cultural scales. Often this means going back to square one. It means watching what makes local leaders successful. It means explaining your own style frequently. It may even mean learning to laugh at yourself when the right moment arises. But ultimately it means learning to lead in different ways in order to motivate and mobilize groups who follow in different ways from the folks back home.”

Big D or Little d

“The Japanese ringi system epitomizes a culture where decisions take a long time to be made, as everyone is invested in building a group consensus. But once the decision is made, it is generally fixed and the implementation may be very rapid, because each individual is on board. The result is a decision with a capital D.”

“The more both sides of the culture divide talked about it, the more natural it became for them to adjust to one another—and the more they enjoyed working together. As with so many challenges related to cross-cultural collaboration, awareness and open communication go a long way toward defusing conflict.”

The Head or the Heart

“Dear colleagues, who have come such a long distance to work with us, we would like to show you that we respect you—and even if nothing else happens during these two days besides getting to know each other at a deeper level and developing a personal connection and trust, we will have made very good use of our time together.”

“What I mean is that you should take the time, energy, and effort to build a personal connection with them. Build trust as a friend from the heart. Forget the deal for a while. Go out. Enjoy some meals. Share some drinks. Relax. Build an emotional connection. Open up personally. Make a friend. A real one, the kind with whom you are willing to let your guard down.”

“After all, in countries like the United States or Switzerland, “business is business.” In countries like China or Brazil, “business is personal.”

“different cultures have different layers of information that they divulge publicly or reserve for private relationships”

“In peach cultures like the United States or Brazil, to name a couple, people tend to be friendly (“soft”) with others they have just met. They smile frequently at strangers, move quickly to first-name usage, share information about themselves, and ask personal questions of those they hardly know. But after a little friendly interaction with a peach person, you may suddenly get to the hard shell of the pit where the peach protects his real self. In these cultures, friendliness does not equal friendship.”

“culture, be aware of the Russian saying “If we pass a stranger on the street who is smiling, we know with certainty that that person is crazy . . . or else American.”

“The point, of course, is that different cultures have different social cues that mark appropriate behavior with strangers as opposed to cues that indicate a real friendship is developing. People from both task-based cultures and relationship-based cultures may be affable with strangers, but this characteristic does not in itself indicate either friendship or relationship orientation.”

“We work with people in countries on the opposite side of the planet, knowing very little about their cultural context. This makes relationship building more difficult, but no less important.”

“The best strategy in this situation is to join the crowd. When working in a relationship-based culture such as Mexico, the moment you switch from boardroom to restaurant or bar is the moment you need to begin acting as if you are out on the town with your best friends. Don’t worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. Be yourself—your personal self, not your business self. Dare to show that you have nothing to hide, and the trust—and likely the business—will follow.”

“remember—in many cultures, the relationship is your contract. You can’t have one without the other.”

“The good news is that strategies for improving trust are quite simple, often requiring only a few minor adjustments in your expectations and behaviors.”

“Drinking is a great platform for sharing your true inner feelings (what are called honne rather than tatemae feelings) as well as for recognizing where bad feelings or conflict might be brewing and to strive to address them before they turn into problems. Under no circumstances should the discussions of the night before be mentioned the next day. Drinking alcohol is therefore an important Japanese bonding ritual not only with clients, but also within one’s own team.”

“Many people from task-based cultures don’t get it. “Why would I risk making a fool of myself in front of the very people I need to impress?” they wonder. But that is exactly the point. When you share a round of drinks with a business partner, you show that person you have nothing to hide. And when they “drink until they fall down” with you, they show you that they are willing to let their guard down completely. “Don’t worry about looking stupid,” Hiroki reassured our German manager, who had begun wringing his hands nervously. “The more you are willing to remove social barriers in the evening, the more they will see you as trustworthy.”

How Late Is Late?

“What these Germans do not understand is that things are always changing in Nigeria. I can’t possibly schedule a meeting three months from today because it is impossible to know what will have changed. I am from the Muslim part of Nigeria, and where I live you don’t even know when the holiday is going to start until the Supreme Leader looks at the moon and says that the holiday starts now. If I don’t know which days will be a holiday, how can I possibly know at which moment two months and seven days from now I will be available to talk on the phone?
My German colleagues don’t get it. They want me to tell them weeks in advance if I will be available on Tuesday, June 24—and if I am not available when that day rolls around, they take offense.”