Fascinating. I am sure there has to be research work completed in this space before Erin Meyer. Why? Because it is incredibly pertinent to how global businesses should operate to be effective. The United States has participated in the worldwide realm of multicultural teams for decades. I can recall longing for a two-year assignment on another continent in the early 1990s when I worked with a large technology company. Although the two-year tenure never came to fruition, I got to work with an international team on a significant product development effort. Thinking back to the dynamics of the international coalition, there was little doubt that the U.S. team members, including myself, were oblivious to the cultural differences.
Numerous business leadership and management books have been written during this time – yet companies still struggle with the issue of relating with people on their team from different tribes. Ms. Meyer introduced us to Bo Chen, a Chinese cultural expert, and Sabine Dulac, a Parisian heading to Chicago for a two-year assignment. Both examples highlighted some critical differences in how global business teams, including her own, still have to purposefully work to understand cultural differences to improve communication.
The eight-point scale developed by Erin Meyer and the team provides a basis for understanding how different cultures respond to crucial areas in a business setting. The eight scales are: communicating, evaluating, persuading, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing, and scheduling. The communication scale consists of low-context, 1) Tell the audience what you’re going to tell them; 2) Tell them, and 3) Tell them what you just told them. Low-context messages are simple, concise, and straightforward. I remember using the Tell’ Em statement when teaching basic essay writing and presentation skills. In my naivete, I thought it was incredibly profound. Students sat on the edge of their seats, waiting for me to expound on the statement. The joys of teaching. I thought the message spoke for itself.
Hearing Ms. Meyer’s use the statement in the video and then say it was considered a low-context form of communication was rather shocking. How could there be any other way to communicate effectively?
However, the second component of the communication scale is high context communication, characterized as nuanced, sophisticated, and layered. Many Asian countries, particularly Japan, are highly adept at this communication style. The central point is as a manager or leaders in the global space, we have to be aware of these cultural differences and be willing to be teachable and ready to learn other ways of relating to people of different cultures.
Dr. Tremper stated at the end of her video, ‘We see God differently through an intercultural lens.’ The variety of cultures, I believe, reflects the many facets of God’s personality and love for His created beings. Together, humans are so much better than apart. Thinking back to the international team I worked on – we were very successful – somehow, we all brought a unique perspective and strengths to the project. What if the intentional approach of trying to understand different cultures was used within families, communities, and a local church body? Would we continue to “other” people that come from different countries?
I see the applicability of the Culture Map beyond business management. For this reason, I used the Cultural Profile assessment tool on Erin Meyer’s website. I was able to compare my personal cultural profile to the United States. There were several instances where I did not fit the average U.S. profile. The most significant difference was on the Persuading scale. I was more principles-first versus application-first. Dr. Tremper stated in the video that within a country, there is a macro-culture and mini-cultures; an example is an American culture versus Southern culture. This generated the idea that within many families, there are different cultures represented, and it would be beneficial to take the Cultural Profile assessment to aid in intercultural communication. Within my family, consisting of my husband, son, daughter-in-law, and brother and sister-in-law, four cultures or mini-cultures are represented. It has taken years to understand the subtleties of our individual cultural communication styles, and we are still adapting and exploring. I think the tool could have saved a few tears and years in the learning process.
The Cultural Iceberg map resonated with me regarding the family cultural differences I discussed. There is also applicability within the classrooms of post-secondary schools across the country. Several community colleges along the East coast have recently had to absorb refugees from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Mexico, to list a few. Students looking to start fresh, instructors willing to help pave the way but sometimes lacking the proper tools to bridge the cultural gap. I remember teaching a diverse group of students an introductory course in business. I assigned the students to work in small project teams. Shortly after the students formed the groups, one young Chinese student dropped out of the class. A week later, I saw the student in the hallway and asked why he had dropped out. He mentioned that the New York student on his team tried to run everything. My point is the Chinese student quietly left rather than inform me of the team dynamics. Based on his culture, he had learned to avoid confrontation. The two students’ leadership and decision-making styles were very different. As an instructor, if I had been better equipped to recognize the cultural differences, I would have been able to assist both students through the teaming process with a more successful outcome.
I am looking forward to the Capetown experience. I am particularly interested in observing how we relate at the beginning versus the end of the experience. There is so much to learn, process, and apply in a short amount of time. However, I do hope that all of us can be open, honest, and authentic during this time with ourselves and each other. I have so much to learn.