Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Build beyond cultural differences

Written by: on September 8, 2022

Erin Meyer, the author of The Culture Map, is a professor at INSEAD business school and focuses on helping business leaders and organizations navigate through the complexities of cultural differences in communication. The Culture Map was her first book and it presents her research on how people communicate in different global and cultural settings. She analyzes and illustrates eight scales that play a critical role in how different people communicate, think, lead, and make decisions – the eight scales are Communicating: low-context vs. high-context, Evaluating: direct negative feedback vs. indirect negative feedback, 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, and Scheduling: linear-time vs. flexible-time. She recommends utilizing the culture map and the scales to “decode how culture influences your own international collaboration and avoid painful situations.”[1]

Erin Meyer did a wonderful job of presenting her vast research findings into a practical model of understanding cultural differences in communications. This type of need to understand the cultural context and perspectives is on the rise in every organization and leadership as the world is becoming more closely connected and multicultural. For example, she illustrated the differences in communication style between the east and the west. She wrote that good communication in the west is “all about clarity and explicitness, and accountability for accurate transmission of the message is placed firmly on the communicator,”[2] while in the east, communication and messages are “often conveyed implicitly, requiring the listeners to read between the line.”[3]  In Korean, the word “Noon-Chi” is used to refer to the ability to read between the lines and in order to be successful in society and work, one has to grow in having “Noon-Chi.”

She also mentioned a great point that communication is not just about speaking, but it is also about listening. In many cultures, learning to “listen to what is meant instead of what it is said”[4] is a learned knowledge throughout years of communication that is linked to its cultural values and standards. When a person isn’t familiar with its dominant culture, one has to give extra attention to pick up what is reflected through what is said and pick up many different hidden body language cues. She goes further in her research to explain that the art of persuasion goes even deeper in communications in a multicultural setting. She explained using real-life examples to demonstrate that “the ways you seek to persuade others and the kinds of arguments you find persuasive are deeply rooted in your culture’s philosophical, religious, and educational assumptions and attitudes.”[5]

One other helpful way to intake Erin’s eight scales is to apply them to our own personal ways of speaking, listening, persuading, and making decisions. The common thread of any global leadership involves thinking through challenging circumstances to move the organizations to a better place of unity and community. Many times, the decisions that are made and implemented roll out and affect many people and the relational dynamics of the organization. The complexities of eight scales and the history of different groups of people and countries make a multi-cultural global team to work and get along together. I believe the two pillars to building a great and strong foundation for a united team are openness and proximity. When there is an atmosphere of openness to accept and respect one another’s differences, it will push the team to communicate better. And bridging the practical communication proximity closer brings better communications to build a better and more adaptable solution that everyone in the team can own and facilitate together.

[1] Erin Meyer, The Culture Map (New York: PublicAffairs, 2016), 16.

[2] Ibid, 31.

[3] Ibid, 31.

[4] Ibid, 50.

[5] Ibid, 89.

About the Author


Jonathan Lee

President of Streamside Ministry Lead Pastor of EM @ San Jose Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, CA

11 responses to “Build beyond cultural differences”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:

    I’m not asking you to write an essay, but I wonder what cultural map experience is like for you as a Korean American ministering in California. What are the differences in communication contexts?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      Within the Korean American 2nd gens and the Korean immgrant 1st gen, there exists same type of communication differences that exists between the west and the east. Many 1st gen bring their country of origin’s culture and perspectives while 2nd gen who grew up in America are raised to think, talk, and express as an American because they grew up in America. Because of these differences in culture and perspectives that exists within the same church body, I encountered a lot of 2nd gen ministers who often run into many communication problems with the older board of elders and co-ministering older pastors.

  2. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Thank you for your summary.

    What ways do you practice “noon-chi” in American context? What comparisons do you make in young Korean-Americans communication using ‘Noon-chi” and young Americans? Is there a communication gap?

    • Kayli Hillebrand says:

      If I could also add, in relation to your NPO, does the younger Korean American generation you are working with understand and live out “Noon-Chi” in the same way older generations do?

      • mm Jonathan Lee says:

        When I observe many young Korean Americans, they use a lot of “Noonchi” to figure out what older Koreans are saying when they speak to them in Korean. Lot of older Koreans would assume that they are Korean because of the way they look from outside, but many times some of these young Korean Americans have no clue what they are saying and they will need to figure out the clear context and contents.

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      I grew up most of my life in southern CA where Korean American was the majority population. Whenever I walk into rooms where there are different cultural majorities, then I automatically go into “Noonchi” mode in order to observe how people communicate and also try to pick up different cultural humors. With many Korean Americans, I feel I can be my most natural self and there isn’t much of “Noonchi” going on, but I find myself having some difficulties these days even with younger Korean Americans becuase I have a hard time trying to find communication connections, It takes effort to keep in touch with cultures of younger generations.

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Jonathan, thanks for your concise summary of Meyer’s book. As you minister to Korean-American youth, how much does the cultural differences affect the challenges the youth face? Are the challenges pretty much the same or does cultural differences add complexity to the challenges? From specific examples you’ve given in the past, it sounds like the issues are much the same, but I’d love to hear your thoughts about the impact of culture on those issues.

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      There are many complex issues that arise from communication barriers within Korean speaking parents and English speaking children who were born in the states. I engage with many younger generation who wrestle to love and understand their parents because many of them grew up never having deep and emotionally connected conversations growing up. Also, as they grow older, there are huge gaps in what the parents desire and what the grown up children can give back. For example, they hurt each other because “We” cultured Korean parents will think differently about many issues and family dynamics from “I” cultured American children.

  4. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Jonathan: I agree that Meyer’s book goes far beyond international business. there are applications for inter-personal communication, ministry, politics, and education. I had never read a book this and I found here discussion on high-context verses low context cultures interesting. I think we’ll be putting this information to use in South Africa.

  5. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hi Jonathan…thank you so very much for your thoughtful engagement with Meyer’s work and for sharing more of your personal experience in ministry and life as a Korean-American pastor and person. So much to explore further. I especially value your emphasis on listening…I’m curious to learn more from you of how you help young adults who are 2nd & 3rd generation develop listening skills? And, how is this different or similar to how you would encourage deeper listening from 1st Generation people as they engage with their children and grandchildren?

  6. mm Eric Basye says:

    Jonathan, well said and summarized. I loved your mention about “Noon-Chi.”

    Given your cultural heritage, and leadership of a Korean church in the US, in what ways have you been able to adapt to the many cultural differences and nuances? I think it is quite admirable and I have much to learn from you and your ability to do this so well.

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