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9 Scales to Analyze Cultures - A Culture Map in Connected World

I am fascinated by how much we are different and how much we are alike. And by how cultures influence businesses.

In a work-from-anywhere and connected world, leaders/managers need to understand the nuances of different cultures. They need a culture map.

"Managers in different parts of the world are conditioned to give feedback in drastically different ways. The Chinese manager learns never to criticize a colleague openly or in front of others, while the Dutch manager learns always to be honest and to give the message straight. Americans are trained to wrap positive messages around negative ones, while the French are trained to criticize passionately and provide positive feedback sparingly." - Erin Meyer

Below are 9 scales to analyze one culture relative to another, based on Erin Meyer's book The Culture Map.

This idea list is a prep for a long form blog.
9 Scales to Analyze Cultures - A Culture Map in Connected World

    1. Communicating

    Japan is a very high-context culture compared to the US, which is the opposite. Low-context cultures are direct and explicit in the way they communicate the information. Whereas in high-context cultures like Japan and China, communication is implicit and inferred from the context of what is said.
    In Japan, situational awareness is key to success in doing business. It is what the Japanese call Kukiyomu - read the air.

    I saw this play out interestingly when leading a culturally diverse team. People from high-context cultures get offended by the directedness of others from low-context cultures.

    Japanese are the most indirect, while Americans are the most explicit.

    2. Reporting Problems/Mistakes

    In the west, there is this idea that it is not good to report a problem without a solution. You need to own the problem.
    In Japan, there is a concept called Hou-ren-so, which is a business rule to communicate. A subordinate must report everything to their superiors immediately and precisely, especially mistakes and problems.

    It is good to encourage everyone to report issues and problems immediately. Even if a solution is not found, the cost of a problem that is not reported can be high.

    3. Deciding

    In general, there are two decision-making processes; consensual and top-down.
    In Japan, there is a concept called nemawashi, a consensus-building decision technique. Nemawashi can be formal or informal. A person promoting a particular proposal may casually get the buy-in of key influencers over a beer or a golf round or plan a formal meeting to discuss the proposal. After nemawashi discussions, the proposal owner will know if the proposal will be approved or not. They may need to refine the proposal. It becomes a matter of formal approval since most of the key decision-makers are already on board.
    According to Erin, in most egalitarian cultures, decision-making is consensual, except in the US, where consensus-building can seem lengthy and inefficient to an American.

    It is important to understand and respect the decision-making process, and use it to your advantage.

    4. Leading

    In certain cultures, people expect the boss to look and act like a boss, otherwise, they may not take them seriously.
    These cultures are usually very hierarchical. The best boss is someone who leads from the front.

    Scandinavians, the Dutch, and the Israelis are at the extreme egalitarian end of the scale, according to Erin. In these countries, the best boss is a facilitator.

    Japan is unique. It is highly consensual yet hierarchical. Be aware of your organization's leadership style, customers, and partners. In meetings, you may need to match the team structure to your counterpart's. If a C-level is attending the meeting, you may want to give heads up to your chief.

    5. Giving feedback

    Knowing this is important for managers. Giving feedback is critical to the growth of the person you are evaluating and the organization as a whole. How you give feedback is critical. Some countries like the Netherlands have no issues giving and receiving direct negative feedback. In Japan, giving feedback is done in a subtle and indirect way.

    Japan and the US are both in the indirect negative feedback camp.

    It is important to consider the culture of the person you deliver the feedback to get the message across without offending or burning bridges.

    6. Trusting

    Trust in relationship building is core to doing business and is built through tasks or relationships.
    In a task-based trust-building culture like the US, trust is built by delivery and meeting or exceeding expectations. It is just business.
    In Japan, which is a relationship-based culture, trust is built on a personal level over a golf round, a meal, a smoke, or any social activities outside work. It is built slowly over time.

    It may be beneficial in the long run to invest in building trust with your customers, even if it is time-consuming.

    7. Disagreeing

    Whenever I am in a heated and passionate debate with my French friend, my Japanese colleagues think we are fighting. Japanese avoids confrontations, French thrive on them :)

    There is a line between disagreement and hostility, changing between cultures. Make sure you understand where that line is drawn.

    8. Persuading

    The way you persuade someone to do business with or work with changes based on their culture.
    According to Erin, there are two schools of persuasion methods: principle-first and application-first. In the principle-first method, you build the theory and argument before giving the punch line. The application-first method starts by stating the main premise, then follows with supporting information.
    There is a third school of thought, the holistic. Japan falls under this approach, which looks at the big picture first.

    You want to structure your message based on the culture of your audience. To a French, you want to build your argument and state the theory before giving the result or the punchline.

    9. Scheduling

    In Japan, time is linear. Everything is expected to be on time.
    Deadlines are important in linear culture. This got me stressed out when I was head of the IT department in my previous incarnation. I presented an aggressive roadmap with tentative dates. The management took those dates at face value as a commitment.

    Be explicit about what it means to be or deliver on time. In some cultures, being an hour late is acceptable in business. And, always be on time, and be careful what you "commit" to.

    10. What is your experience working with people from different cultures?

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