The Culture Map: A Short Book Review

My job to the outside world is a little like Chandler’s job from the TV show Friends; I’m a data transponster. I often struggle to explain what I do to people who do not belong to this industry, and hence I leave it at business development. With time, Ruki has learned what I do and is now able to explain to anyone who asks what RFPs and RFIs are… Her world is fundamentally different from mine, and it was difficult to explain work calls late into the night or early in the morning. Having worked for close to eight years in a role that requires me to coordinate and collaborate with stakeholders from different nationalities and cultures, I can relate to almost every aspect that Erin Meyer covers in her book, The Culture Map.

Simply put, she attempts to analyze and place cultures on eight scales: style of communication, method of giving feedback, persuading people, leading teams, making decisions, trusting, disagreeing, and scheduling. Depending on where cultures fall on these scales, she then goes on to list out clear strategies for managing cross-cultural teams, equipping executives with a framework for better decision making. Sample the following mapping sourced from lecture notes on her website:

A mapping of India, China, and three Anglo Saxon cultures on Erin Meyer’s framework. Image sourced from lecture notes available on erinmeyer.com.

India and China fall clearly on the right of these scales, meaning these are high context cultures where communication is nuanced and layered (think of the non-committal Indian headshake). These cultures are hierarchical (think of the respect that elders in Indian families generally command even if they’re unreasonable and wrong), top-down, and business is built on relationships (think of how some of the biggest companies in India are still family-run businesses). Most of the Anglo-Saxon cultures fall on the left of these Asian giants.

As a parting note, learning to document meetings didn’t come easy to me when I started my career. Meyer’s book theorizes that my culture is high context, which means that communication is generally indirect and implied. A lot of emphasis is placed on the spoken word than the written word. Considering the kind of influence that the mythological epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have had on the Indian psyche, I wonder if there’s a connection. These epics were transmitted orally, as was ancient Vedic knowledge, for years before it was documented. My reluctance to sit with a notebook and a pen during work calls has more to do with my culture than with being a millennial. Or not 😉

Her book has a rating of 4.34 on Goodreads and should be mandatory reading material in b-schools everywhere!

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