Relative Positioning is Key
Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map bridges the disciplines of business and psychology to pave the way for clearer international communication. Using eight scales, countries are mapped on a continuum which then can be compared against one another using mapping – the importance being their relative positioning to one another. This visualization brings context to common communication challenges that can take place in every sector of industry, shedding insight as to how and why cultures vary in their interaction with others. A business professor by trade, Meyer has quickly become a leading expert in the field of international communication, working with top business executives from around the globe.
I consider myself fortunate that the video we watched accompanying this week’s reading was one I saw live many years ago at the Global Leadership Summit. Newly into a vocational role within international education, I was captivated by Meyers ease at navigating cultural challenges and complexities by using mapping. I have used this book and the scales with every intercultural course, team training, and student mobilization effort I have been part of since. Revisiting this work, the video, and Dr. Tremper’s overview of the mapping system reminded me that I truly love the field of international education. I enjoy equipping and empowering students to engage in cultures different from their own, learn social norms that they are not familiar with, understand the importance of high- and low-context culture differences, and to continually be a student wherever they go.
“What’s new is the requirement for twenty-first century leaders to be prepared to understand a wider, richer array of work styles than ever before and to be able to determine what aspects of an interaction are simply a result of personality and which are a result of differences in cultural perspectives.”
While there are many lanes I could choose to travel down this week, I find myself sitting with a few questions:
- Similarly to previous conversations about Winchester, does this new way of mapping further help me understand where I am headed?
- Had this knowledge base been available within the earlier church, would as many denominations have formed as we have today, or would there be fewer with greater understanding and appreciation for differing cultural perspectives and implications?
- How much depth and richness do I miss out on within scripture because I have not been taking cultural context into account? Or even thought to consider my relative position to the predominant cultures in biblical times and how that may impact my understanding and interpretation?
- Is the TRC model we dove into with Tutu last week largely effective because those participating were all within the same country and general positions on the scales?
- While we can be mapped based on our culture and country, how does our personality (Nettles) further impact our cultural communication competencies?
- Will we still recognize and reflect cultures as we know them today in Heaven?
With all of the complexities and challenges that can emerge from cross-cultural engagement whether in business, politics, religion, or education, I still hold fast to intercultural is the way of the Lord. I can only imagine the beauty that will overwhelm when we truly are able to understand and experience what every tribe, tongue, and nation really means. May we live today in light of that reality that is to come.
 Meyer, 22.
 Ibid., 252.
 Revelation 7:9
9 responses to “Relative Positioning is Key”
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Kayli your enthusiasm for Meyer’s work is beautiful. Thank you for sharing your experience of utilizing her work in your context.
As you work to synthesize Meyers work with our other authors that focused on biases, what helpful pieces emerge that could help inform your question, “Similarly to previous conversations about Winchester, does this new way of mapping further help me understand where I am headed?”
Nicole: I think similar to larger conversations we have had over these last few years, it is asking more questions. In distilling Meyer’s work, I don’t simply want to use it as the only tool or take it at face value without consideration of individual personalities, histories, etc. I think that is where Meyer’s personal and team profiles can fill out the map a bit more in terms of mitigating biases and opening blind spots — jumping off the broad stroke scales to get into the deeper individualized placement and relativity.
Thank you for sharing your experiential insights with Meyer’s material.
I am curious about your thoughts about the TRC and culture mapping. True, all the participants were from South Africa but from diverse cultures within the country. I have worked with the Dutch, British, and French on join projects and it can be quite interesting. Can you identify aspects of the TRC that could have benefitted from a culture map approach/understanding?
Denise: In relation to the TRC, Tutu had referred several times to why their model would likely not have worked as well for say WWII and engaging reconciliation between two different countries/cultures. It makes me want to map the involved countries to see how the positioning on the scales could have strengthened and weakened something similar to the TRC.
I think what I would more so want to explore is how trauma impacts our individual placement on any given scale. Both Tutu and Meyer place heavy emphasis on trust in their works which seems to be a key foundational component no matter what problem you are trying to address.
Trauma definitely plays a significant role. It is difficult for Americans to fully grasp the impact of war, and oppression, on a culture and people. At the same time, the impact of freedom and grace to heal the human soul.
I have the honor of know a young Polish woman (her whole life) who is a member of a German church that works toward the on-going reconciliation between the Poles, Germans, and Jews. When you have time to explore more, I would be happy to connect you.
Kayli, I really like your breadth of questions Meyer’s book raised for you. You mention the TRC and Tutu’s work, asking if the success was due to being the same country. As I read the two books from last week, it struck me how diverse the Afrikaner and native African cultures differed. Can you say more about your thoughts of the South African culture that you believe led to success? Also, I’m guessing in your role at your school, you encounter many students coming from a different culture than the American one. What dynamics lead to success of those studying in a new culture versus those who do not thrive in the same context?
Roy: Similar to my response to Denise above, I think while there were significant differences between the Afrikaans and native cultures, there was at the foundation a sense of ‘sameness’ in that they were all South Africans. For me, it is similar to the analogy of the body of Christ being one body — there is something that holds us together regardless of the denominational distinctions.
In my context at university, I would unfortunately say that the international students that are the most successful are the ones that are able to learn these scales for the US and adjust. While we work with faculty/staff to develop more culturally aware and inclusive pedagogy, academics tend to be more of a low-context sector. There’s a syllabus, clear assignments, assessments, etc. However, what makes international students thrive is finding their community – not just those that may have also left their home country to study in the US, but people they feel they connect to whether in athletics, student leadership, academic discipline or involvement opportunities. Regardless of cultural distinctions, we were all created for and within the context of community.
Christianity in the 18th and 19th centuries was described as the “Age of Missions” because so many outreach organizations were formed to bring the gospel to all the world. Can imagine if this book was written back then? Meyers makes so many good points about communicating with other cultures. It would have ben helpful then and it certainly is helpful now. Good connection with the Global Leadership Summit, I saw that too in my church. Lot so good stuff going on there.
Excellent blog, Kayli. I always enjoy and glean so much from your summary thoughts with your blogs. You are posing some great questions. At the heart of what I hear is a spirit of curiosity… to remaining curious about people, cultures, situations, contexts, etc.
In light of your work and this program, how do you see utilizing your passion for students, education, and cross-global interests aligning?