Book Notes: The Culture Map

The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures by Erin Meyer
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The Culture Map provides a number of scales on which different cultures exist. The important part of the scales are the relative between cultures rather than the values themselves, e.g. in relation to low or high context Poland, Spain and Bulgaria are seen as high context in comparison to the UK, however from the Spanish perspective Bulgaria is high context and the UK and Poland are low context.


Good communication is precise, simple and clear. Messages are expressed and understood at face value. Repetition is appreciated if it helps clarify the communication.Good communication is sophisticated, nuanced and layered. Messages are both spoken and read between the lines. Messages are often implied but not plainly expressed.


Direct Negative FeedbackIndirect Negative Feedback
Negative feedback to a colleague is provided frankly, bluntly, honestly. Negative messages stand alone, not softened by positive ones. Absolute descriptions are often used when criticising. Criticism may be given to an individual in front of a group.Negative feedback to a colleague is provided softly, subtly, diplomatically. Positive messages are used to wrap negative ones. Qualifying descriptors are often used when criticising. Criticism is given only in private.


The ideal distance between a boss and a subordinate is low. The best boss is a facilitator among equals. Organisational structures are flat. Communication often skips hierarchical lines.The ideal distance between a boss and a subordinate is high. The best boss is a string director who leads from the front. Status is important. Organisational structures are multilayered and fixed. Communication follows set hierarchical lines.


Decisions are made in groups through unanimous agreement.Decisions are made by individuals (usually the boss).


Trust is built through business-related activities. Work relationships are built and dropped easily, based on the practicality of the situation. You do good work consistently, you are reliable, I enjoy working with you, I trust you.Trust is built through sharing emails, evening drinks, and visits at the coffee machine. Work relationships build up slowly over the long term. I’ve seen who you are at a deep level, I’ve shared personal time with you, I know others well who trust you, I trust you.


ConfrontationalAvoids Confrontation
Disagreement and debate are positive for the team or organisation. Open confrontation is appropriate and will not negatively impact the relationship.Disagreement and debate are negative for the team or organisation. Open confrontation is inappropriate and will break group harmony or negatively impact the relationship.


Project steps are approached in a sequential fashion, completing one task before beginning the next. One thing at a time. No interruptions. The focus is on the deadline and sticking to the schedule. Emphasis is on promptness and good organisation over flexibility.Project steps are approached in a fluid manner, changing tasks as opportunities arrive. Many things are dealt with at once and interruptions accepted. The focus is on adaptability, and flexibility is valued over organisation.


The concept of Applications-first and Principles-first only applies to western environments. Asian cultures, for example, are Holistic and neither Applications-first nor Principles first.

Principles FirstApplications First
Individuals have been trained to first develop the theory or complex concept before presenting a fact, statement, or opinion. The preference is to begin a message or report by building up a theoretical argument before moving on to a conclusion. The conceptual principles underlying each situation are valued.Individuals are trained to begin with a fact, statement or opinion and later add concepts to back up or explain the conclusion as necessary. The preference is to begin a message or report with an executive summary or bullet points. Discussions are approached in a practical, concrete manner. Theoretical or philosophical discussions are avoided in a business environment.

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