Are International Cultural Differences Impacting your Business?

Globalisation means that our business and indeed our personal lives increasingly involve international networks.  In order to leverage these networks and maximise relationships with people operating in different cultures Erin Meyer has come up with a tool called Culture Map.

It’s made up of eight scales which represent the management behaviours where cultural gaps are most common as outlined below.  The idea is to compare the position of one nationality relative to another, get an insight into how culture can influence day to day collaboration and ultimately help people to decode the cultural differences impacting their work and enhance their effectiveness in dealing with these differences.

The Culture Map

The scales and their metrics are:


Explicit v implicit communication. The idea of what constitutes effective communication differs from society to society. In the Culture Map communication is measured by the degree to which it can be considered high or low context. High context communication is sophisticated, nuanced and layered. Messages are often implied but not plainly stated. More is left to interpretation and less is put in writing. Understanding may depend upon your ability to read between the lines. Low context communication is precise, simple, explicit and clear. Messages are understood at face value. For the purpose of clarification, repetition is appreciated and so is putting information in writing.


This scale measures the preference for direct v indirect negative feedback. Evaluating is often confused with communicating but many countries have different positions on the two scales.


The ways in which you persuade others and the arguments you find convincing are rooted in your cultural background, in your culture’s religious and educational assumptions and attitudes. The idea behind this measure is to look at how executives use specific v holistic thought patterns. For example, a Western executive will break an argument into a sequence of distinct components (specific thinking) while Asian managers have a tendency to show how all the components fit together (holistic thinking).


This scale measures the level of respect shown to authority figures. Countries are placed on a spectrum from egalitarian to hierarchical.


This scale measures the degree to which a culture is consensus minded. The assumption that the most egalitarian cultures will also be the most democratic and vice versa is erroneous. This isn’t always the case.


Meyer contrasts cognitive trust (from the head) with affective trust (from the heart). Trust is built cognitively through work in task based cultures. Collaboration leads to trust via reliability and respect. In relationship based cultures trust is the result of a strong affective connection. Trust is established through spending time together and getting to know one another on a personal level.


Different cultures have different views on how productive confrontation is for a team or an organisation. This scale measures tolerance for open disagreement and whether it is seen to be helpful or harmful to work relationships.


All businesses follow schedules and timetables. In some cultures people strictly adhere to the schedule whereas in others it is treated more as a suggestion. This measure assesses the value placed on operating in a structured, linear fashion versus being flexible and reactive.

By analysing the positioning of different nationalities on the scale managers can decode how culture influences day to day international collaboration and can use this information to avoid the common pitfalls and cross cultural complexities that can impact day to day effectiveness. Success today depends on the ability to navigate the disparate ways people from different cultures think, lead and get things done.

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