Warning—this book is not light reading; however, it will be a book you will want, if not need, in your personal library if you work with, collaborate with, or supervise people in different cultures (this could be across country borders or working with a diverse workforce within your own country). Either way, this book is for you.
Why? This book presents so many real-life examples that it is very easy to follow the messages throughout. The book is also a study of cultures in the context that it helps explore the common business communication challenges as well as the possible reasons that come from cultural differences, and it gives the reader steps and strategies to deal with these situations more effectively.
In light of context, the author, Erin Meyer, helps readers learn which cultures are “high context” and which ones are “low context.” This is essential to understanding each other and referenced frequently throughout this book. I don’t want to give too much away, or diminish the fun of learning, but I will say this much. Americans are low context and not just low, but at one end of the spectrum.
The author lays out the book in eight chapters, each addressing a different focus of eight scales. For example, Chapter 1 is titled “Listening to the Air,” in which she starts with the “Communicating” scale. But don’t skip over the Introduction, appropriately titled “Navigating Cultural Differences and the Wisdom of Mrs. Chen.” This is one of the more problematic areas in business—managing cross-culturally and, more specifically, providing performance feedback. The well-illustrated example is an American manager with a French employee who is living and working in America. The manager is trying to tell his employee she needs to improve her performance. This illustrates how you might think of this scenario as just “communication,” but really it goes further. It’s also a cultural difference in how feedback is given (you may not have known this is done differently in different cultures, but it is).
When we each understand where disconnects can happen, given the differences in culture and not just chalking it up to personality differences, we can provide more information, offer a preface, or even have a direct conversation about the differences and what each party can do to “meet in the middle,” thus improving communication greatly. The author provides examples of what these “meetings in the middle” can look like.
We all want our business dealings to be successful and working globally can be an exciting opportunity. So besides communicating and evaluating (giving feedback) what else does this book discuss? The other sections are on:
- 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)
Meyer uses the scales to visually show us how one culture compares to another in these eight categories. In some ways, the cultures may actually match. In others, they may not match, but graphically it is a great way to see the differences within a broad cultural context. These aren’t just her experiences or opinions thrown onto a chart. The information was gathered from numerous managers from that country and refined with feedback from international executives. The author explains her process in the Introduction.
So who is this author? Meyer was born and raised in Minnesota and is currently living in France with a French spouse and their two children. She is a professor at INSEAD, an international business school with campuses in France, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi. She is also the program director for INSEAD’s Managing Global Virtual Teams and Management Skills for International Business executive education programs. She regularly speaks about cross-cultural management and global teamwork, and she conducts classes for international executives preparing to travel to or work with countries with which they have little prior experience.
The author doesn’t say she’s an expert. In fact, she says she often becomes the student when working with the international executives, learning all the time about all things cultural. But with the information and learning she’s gathered to date, she has authored this truly amazing book. You don’t want to miss it.