Je suis à peu près sûr que je suis français et pas seulement dans le nom
Je suis à peu près sûr que je suis français et pas seulement dans le nom.
Communication is hard. Whether, as Kahneman points out in Thinking, Fast and Slow, it is the ways our brain’s System 1 & 2 function in decision making and “humans confounding tendencies to believe that what we know is the correct truth while new information presented conflicts with our truth”. Or, as Kegan and Lehey argue against in An Everyone Culture, the organizational structure that encourages employees to hide their vulnerabilities as they work side by side.
Communication complications magnify across the board room filled with people from different cultures. Erin Meyer, who has studied communication patterns around the world, wrote The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business to offer a construct of “8 scales that map the world’s cultures”. These scales are tools to help global leaders navigate the dimensions of communication that can be complicated by the dynamics of cultural disconnects.
Meyer moves through the 8 scales deftly by sharing many anecdotes from her personal experiences in her work around the globe. Her stories reveal the challenges of cultural communication clash. However, I found myself connecting these international business issues with similar clashes within the context of churches I have served in the US. The subject of racism in the US has been a flash point in churches especially in this current decade, after the murder of George Floyd. It is an issue that has created a chasm between members of a particular church. Meyer’s premise is that human beings tend to lean into evaluating misunderstandings, differences, conflicts by attempting to make judgments on the personality of the other all the while this evaluation is from one’s own cultural perspective. Humans use the justification, “speaking of cultural differences leads us to stereotype, and therefore put individuals in boxes with ‘general traits’. Instead of talking about culture, it is important to judge people as individuals, not just products of their environment.” How often I have heard people claim, “I’m not a racist” and what is often implied by this underneath is therefore racism doesn’t exist. Though this issue is not cross-cultural in Meyer’s book context, I think the essence of her argument is foundational to understanding/addressing the communication chasm in churches. As a church leader I can encourage others to recognize that as people of faith we are called to nurture a growing spirit within ourselves. To do this we must name and claim that we form our values and judgements from our own “goto” cultural lens. Then we must challenge ourselves to recognize that our lens, our experience, isn’t the only way to embody the truth and be open to be shaped by the other’s experience of the truth.
As I read, I also found myself asking, “How am I American?” Meyer talks about the scales being relative to what countries are in the mix of communication, so as I consider this relativity it seems that in America, I am actually French (although I lead like an Australian). I “read the air” like the French. I persuade like the French. I trust like the French. I disagree like the French. This explains a great deal as to why I have often felt like my communication ends in a black hole. I feel that people don’t track with what I’m saying, or that they are off put. I may be able to connect, but if I live into my own FRECNH way, I am met with blank stares.
I struggle in low-context environments. The “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” stresses me. Accordingly, my sermons may be critiqued as “drive by sermons”; I speak le deuxième degré, hoping the listener will care enough to do the work of discovering the deeper word of God. My natural communication style is high-context but I have begun to learn how to refine my approach recognizing Americans don’t usually meet me in nuance. I finally agree with Meyer where she says, “being an agile communicator, able to move adroitly in either direction, is valuable skill for anyone in business.”
The other dimension in which I am strongly convinced I am French, is the “Disagreeing” scale. Meyer begins chapter 7 sharing her personal anecdote at a dinner party in France where she was the only American. As the story unfolds, I see myself firmly ensconced at that table thriving in the “confrontational” style discussion. I often have found myself at odds within the churches I have served because of my passion. I live into highly energetic disagreements without any intention of making it personal. The problem comes with members who eagerly avoid conflict. Churches tend to identify with Prince Shotuku’s Seventeen-Article Constitution that is founded on harmony. Although I must admit I think harmony has been one of the culprits in what Friedman calls, “hostile environment”. This nature of harmony opens the door to triangles, and according to Friedman triangles know no culture. I concur with one of Meyer’s French teammates who said, “We make our points passionately. We like to disagree openly. We like to say things that shock. With confrontation, you reach excellence, you have more creativity, and you eliminate risk.” I am learning to reign myself in for I am seeing I am a lot to take in here in America. This is just another dynamic of Friedman’s call for self-regulation.
Erin Meyer may not have had someone like me in mind as her audience, but The Culture Map has proven to be an important tool for my meaning making map. Now I will be curious to discover what country members of this church hail from. Creo que tal vez mexicanas, pero definitivamente no son francesas.
 Richardson, Nicole. Through the Thinking-Glass. October 21, 2021. https://blogs.georgefox.edu/dlgp/through-the-thinking-glass/
 Meyer, Erin. 2014. The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business. Illustrated edition. New York: PublicAffairs. Pages 14-16.
 Ibid. Pages 12-13.
 Ibid. Page 13.
 Ibid. Page 35.
 Ibid. Page 38, 50. Meyer says that this “second degree” requires people to read between the lines.
 Ibid. Page 50
 Ibid Page 199.
 Friedman, Edwin H., and Peter Steinke. 2017. A Failure of Nerve, Revised Edition: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. 10th Anniversary edition. New York: Church Publishing. Pages 141-167.
 Ibid. 237-238
 Meyer, Erin. 2014. The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business. Illustrated edition. New York: PublicAffairs. Page 200
6 responses to “Je suis à peu près sûr que je suis français et pas seulement dans le nom”
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Nicole: I too was intrigued about the different ways that cultures disagree with each other. Americans are just so darn “nice.” And Americans can get so easily offended when they experience forthright, blunt criticism, like the French are all to happy to give. The book was a helpful read and I’m glad it was assigned to us just before we all venture to South Africa. Even though the book was geared to international business, people who engage in international ministry can glean a lot of helpful wisdom from this book.
Yes I agree this is helpful as we prepare for our Advance in SA.
I’m so glad you brought in Friedman. I think the more a person understands themselves, who they are and are not the easier it is for them to see, appreciate and adjust to others, in a healthy manner. Being aware of your Frenchness, what are some tools might you anticipate using while in South Africa?
Nicole: I appreciate the self-reflection you shared in this post. Entering our final year, I feel like this work perfectly gives language to what you have wrestled with in terms of defining and flushing out the NPO process over the last few year. How does a high-context individual approach a project that is largely low-context? It makes me wonder now how others that are part of this program have approached the NPO process differently over the years.
Nicole, “ach du liebe zeit” (German for: “Oh my goodness!”) what great insights from your own “wiring” in a leadership role. I find myself more British or Canadian than French or American by Meyer’s description. As you transition into a new pastoral role, do you anticipate that you will create the “country culture” going forward regardless of what it is now or do you see yourself adapting in ways to what’s already there? To ask it another way, do you set the culture as the senior leader or does the leader do their best to work with what’s in place? In a sports context, they talk about coaches who set the vision and that’s just the way it’s going to be versus a player coach who works with the personnel already present. What do you think Friedman would do if he stepped into the role in which you now serve?
Great blog! Wow, I feel like I better understand you:) In all seriousness, I loved reading about your increased self-awareness and the implications of this book, and how it will shape and form your leadership and relationships going forward!