The Culture Map

Learn how to communicate and lead successfully in different cultures.

Particular communication styles are often perceived as more desirable than others, most especially that the cultures we grow up in tend to have a great influence on our point of view. And if you take into consideration a person’s cultural background, you should be able to grasp a better and more effective way of communication.

The eight different scales that Erin Meyer came up with will help you come up with a more effective communication skills.

You’ll learn:

  • Why witnessing a shouting match in Paris might not mean what you think
  • How the Vikings’ democratic style lives on in Sweden
  • How to safely criticize someone from any part of the world

Being a good observer is sometimes more important than being a good speaker.

Often, we struggle at communicating with people from other countries; and this includes temperaments, values, and senses of humor. Why not avoid being a kuuki yomenai or what Japanese refers to as someone who cannot read the air.

Considering the communication styles depending on the low-context cultures and high-context cultures could better ‘reading the air’. Low-context cultures such as Australia or USA has concise and crystal communication to eliminate misinterpretation. But in Korea or Japan or the high-context cultures, communication is often layered and requires more effort into understanding.

However, 100 percent low or high in context cultures does not exist. For example, German managers could be lesser in high-context than French ones. But French managers could be low-context in comparison to Chinese.

History can be responsible for having different contexts. Countries with larger homogenous population tend to be more tuned to subtle nuances in communication and ‘reading the air’ skills. While in America, immigrants have had their fair share of influence, this, their communication skills are more explicit.

Balancing listening and speaking skills can be the key to getting the hang of low and high-context communication. Listening carefully and paying attention to body language are helpful when talking to high-context cultures. But with low-context, you must be as specific as possible and concise in explanation.

Be careful with your feedback; it can be offensive.

To gain some understanding as to why misunderstanding occurs when talking to different context culture with feedback, let us try and evaluate the scale.

Negative feedback could both be direct and indirect. Russia or Israel—countries considered as direct cultures—are straight when it comes to feedback. They also often use absolute descriptions known as upgraders, such as “totally” or “strongly” to make a point.

Indirect cultures such as Indonesia or Japan come up with more gentle feedback and sugarcoat negative notes. They also use downgraders, like “kind of” or “maybe” to get their message across. And criticism is provided in closed doors.

So, evaluating scale can unfold these four groups:

Low-Context and Indirect-Feedback (Example country: USA)

High-Context and Indirect-Feedback (Example country: Japan)

Low-Context and Direct-Feedback (Example country: Germany)

High-Context and Direct-Feedback (Example country: Russia)

Keep these styles in mind when you work with diverse cultures in order to avoid offending others.

Communication with high-context and indirect cultures such as Japan requires not delivering feedback in public and adjusting words without compromising the meaning. Highlighting positive notes are preferred if you wish for the communication to fall to the wayside.

You can reach your desired outcome of being courteous and polite without jeopardizing support by adapting your behavior and observing how others react.

Paying attention to how others convey ideas will help you be more convincing.

But how do diverse cultural backgrounds alter our perception of persuasion?

Using this persuading scale that embodies the principles-first reasoning and applications-first reasoning, we can figure out how.

Principles-first reasoning utilizes general principles to come up with conclusions.

For example, in learning a new language, you learn the grammatical principles first before you start speaking the new language. Thus, deductive.

While Applications-first reasoning is inductive by presenting a theory first before laying out supporting facts. Such technique is applied math classes where students first gets a formula and then practices applying it before they get to understand its principles.

France or Italy is a good example of cultures that use principles-first reasoning, which draw attention to the very reason that something is necessary before carrying it out.

Meanwhile, the US or Canada or application-first cultures are centered on how more than the reason why in the first place.

Hence, French employee becoming frustrated with instructions not knowing the reason why they have to do them is not unusual.

Switching back and forth when extending your point and the principles that come with it and executing practical application can often save the communication.

A good example is giving a presentation at an international conference about the superiority to your competition's products. Present the satisfaction it offers to the principles-first audience. After doing so, offer some practical examples such as videos of people patronizing the product for the application-first audience.

To be a successful leader, you must learn to adapt your style.

The question is, how do cultural styles help your business and leadership? This leading scale about egalitarian and hierarchical cultures could help.

Egalitarian cultures, like Denmark or the Netherlands, possess a narrow gap between employees and managers that mediate between equals and everyone approaches each other using first names.

Things are different in China and Nigeria wherein a rampant gap between the boss and the employees are observed. In structures like these, the bosses come up with the decisions and take the lead. Firm hierarchy evolves communication, which means the lowest rank would have to approach someone from the higher rank to communicate concerns to the top level.

Geographical concerns do not necessarily affect the leading scale. For instance, Sweden and France are both European, yet they fall on different ends of the scale since France is more hierarchical.

According to Professor André Lauren, such difference rooted from historical diversities in leadership.

The Roman Empire has influenced France through its chain-of-command style and centralized political system. On the other hand, Swedish history was affected by the Vikings, which happened to be one of the world’s first democracies. This means, people have equality in point of view.

In an egalitarian culture, employees are invited for decision-making. Supervisors facilitate instead of doing all the executive tasks. Autonomy is being observed only when necessary.

When it comes to leading hierarchical cultures, offer opportunities to your employees to share their ideas and opinions through invitations. Make your people respect your leadership by requiring to be addressed through your last name instead of your first.

Understanding different decision-making processes is vital to implementing ideas.

Observing egalitarian at the office does not require consensus style of decision-making. Same thing goes for hierarchical cultures. When talking about making decisions, a different cultural scale takes at place.

The deciding scale involves consensual at one end and top-down at the other.

For example, consensual countries such as Sweden or the Netherlands would do group discussions to the point of reaching consensus, so that when a decision is finalized and approved by everyone, the time necessary for implementation is short.

While top-down countries like China or India make individual decisions shouldered usually by the boss. In this way, decisions are finalized quickly, yet require revisions later on. Thus, changes can take more time to implement.

Another instance involves the Japanese ringi-system, wherein a proposal document or ringisho is brought up to mid-management. In this system, each person can make alterations in this document until a consensus is reached. After doing so, the document is submittted to the next management level where the process is repeated until the document reaches the top most level, which makes the ringI system categorized as both hierarchical and highly consensual.

Therefore, snap judgements are not such wise call when aware of the organizational structure. With the ringi-system, some structures seem top-down but are consensual.

But when multicultural environment is involved, it is best to stick with one decision-making method. Make an early call as to whether decisions must be consensual or made by a boss. Doing so mean weighing thoroughly should a total consensus be vital in such situation or the flexibility that the decision-making process requires. Should the decision be altered often or fixed permanently? In major decisions, review the method and check for complete understanding from everyone involved.