The Culture Map - Global Leadership Summit, Session 5B

In this session, Erin Meyer explored how cultural differences impact our organizational effectiveness.  She explored various categories which research has found to vary greatly from culture to culture.

Communicating: Low vs. High Context
Cultures that participate in low context communications assume a low level of shared reference points.  They think of communication as explicit, simple, clear.  The U.S. is actually the lowest scoring country on the scale.  On the other hand, cultures with a high context communication style assume a much larger body of reference points.  They think of good communication as more sophisticated, more subtle and believe they understand intent versus what is actually said in a conversation.

In these low context cultures, people tend to "nail things down" in writing.  Low context people tend to think high context people are hiding something, not being transparent.  Leaders dealing in a an atmosphere of low context people should be as explicit as possible, put everything in writing, and recap the key notes as often as possible.

High context cultures assume everyone “got it” and high context people feel mistrusted when a low context person sends follow-up notes on what was decided.  When working with high context people, leaders should ask clarifying questions, repeat themselves less, and work on increasing their ability to “read the atmosphere”.  Although, when working with a multi-cultural team, it is better to use a low context processes.

Evaluating: Direct Negative Feedback vs. Indirect Negative Feedback
What is considered "constructive feedback" also varies greatly from one country to another.  There are typically two categories people fall into when evaluating: upgraders and downgraders.  The upgraders use words like, "definitely", "very", "certainly", but the downgraders think more in lines of "sort of", "kind of", and "may want to think about..."  The U.S. culture teaches to start with positives, then some negatives and generally falls generally toward to middle of the scale.

Further examples of traits that often vary from culture to culture include:  Silence (Uncomfortable After 2 vs. 6-7 Seconds of Silence), Leading (Egalitarian vs. Hierarchical), Deciding (Consensual vs. Top-Down), Trusting (Task vs. Relationship Based), Disagreeing (Confrontational vs. Avoids Confrontation), Scheduling (Linear vs. Flexible), and Persuading (Principles vs. Applications First).

All in all it is important to remember countries are mapped generally (from research), but there is obviously variance from one situation/person to another.  Often, though, the perspective from one culture to the next can be completely different, which is why leaders must take these differences into account throughout their interactions.