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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

The Culture Map by Erin Meyer ~ 8 minute read.

I finished this book in October 2021. I recommend this book 9/10.

A great book if you are a manager that is working with people and teams on different continents. The book highlights some of the cultural differences that can get in your way of getting results.

If you want to increase organizational success by improving your ability to understand the behavior of colleagues, clients, and suppliers from different countries, get your copy here

My notes and thoughts:

  • When going through performance reviews, you might consider telling the employee how you are intending to conduct the meeting "When I give a performance review, I always start by going through three or four things I feel the person is doing well. Then I move on to the really important part of the meeting, which is, of course, what you can do to improve. I hate to jump into the important part of the meeting without starting with the positives. Is that method okay with you?"

  • When considering strategies for improving your effectiveness, one crucial principle to remember is that communicating is not just about speaking but also listening.

  • How to communicate to Americans, Australians, and British: Be as transparent, clear, and specific as possible. Explain exactly why you are calling. Assert your opinions transparently. Show all of your cards upfront. At the end of the phone call, recap all the key points again, or send an email repeating these points straight afterward. If you are ever not 100 percent sure what you have been asked to do, don't read between the lines but state clearly that you don't understand and ask for clarification. And sometimes, it would be better not to be quite so polite, as it gives the impression of vagueness or uncertainty.

  • Russia, France, the Netherlands, and Denmark wants direct negative feedback. US, UK, and Canada are in the middle. Japan, China, and India want Indirect negative feedback.

  • When I say "I'm happy to play Autodesk today" To a Dutchman, it is all a lot of hogwash. All that positive feedback just strikes as fake and not in the least bit motivating.

  • When working with APAC:

    • The first strategy: Give the feedback slowly, over a period of time, so that it gradually sinks in. "In the West, you learn that feedback should be given right here, right now. In most Asian societies, it is best to give feedback gradually. This does not mean that you beat the direct message in periodically, again and again. Rather it means that you make small references to the changes that need to be made gently, gradually building a clear picture as to what should be done differently."

    • Second strategy: Use food and drink to blur an unpleasant message. "If I have to provide criticism to someone on my staff, I am not going to call them into my office. If I do, I know that they are going to be listening to my message with all of their senses—and any message I provide will be greatly amplified in their minds. Instead, I might invite them out to lunch. Once we are relaxed, this is a good time to give feedback. We don't make reference to it in the office the next day or the next week, but the feedback has been passed, and the receiver is not able to take action without humiliation or breaking the harmony between the two parties.

    • And finally: Say the good and the negative message without saying it at all. Talk about the positives and make sure the negatives are clearly avoided.

  • The sophisticated global manager learns to adapt—to alter his behavior a bit, to practice humility, to test the waters before speaking up, to assume goodwill on the part of others, and to invest time and energy in building good relationships.

  • One of the most common frustrations among French employees with American bosses is that the Americans tell them what to do without explaining why they need to do it. From the French perspective, this can feel demotivating, even disrespectful. By contrast, American bosses may feel that French workers are incorporative because instead of acting quickly, they always ask "Why?" and are not ready to act until they have received a suitable response.

  • "One British colleague told me that if my email doesn't fit on the screen on an iPhone, it risks not getting read."

  • When sitting across another person, the Americans focus on the individual figures separate from their environment, while the Asians give more attention to backgrounds and to the links between these backgrounds and the central figure.

  • Working with Asia:

    • Communicate with the person at your level. If you are the boss, go through the boss with equivalent status, or get explicit permission to hop from one level to another.

    • If you do email someone at a lower level hierarchical level than your own, copy the boss.

    • If you need to approach your boss's boss or your subordinate's subordinate, get permission from the person at the level in between first.

    • When emailing, address the recipient by the last name unless they have indicated otherwise—for example, by signing their email to you with their first name only.

  • When international staffers show too much respect, or too little:

    • Ask the team to meet without you in order to brainstorm as a group—and then to report the group's ideas back to you. Removing "the boss" from the meeting removes their need to defer, allowing people to feel more comfortable sharing ideas.

    • When you call a meeting, give clear instructions a few days beforehand about how you would like the meeting to work and what questions you plan to ask. Tell your team members explicitly that you will call on them for their input. In this way, they can show you respect by preparing and sharing their ideas. It also gives the team members time to organize their thoughts carefully and to check with one another before the meeting.

    • If you are the boss, remember that your role is to chair the meeting. Don't expect people to jump in randomly without an invitation. Instead, invite people to speak up. Even if team members have prepared well and are ready to share their ideas, they may not volunteer unless you call on them individually. When you do so, you may be surprised to see how much they have to contribute.

  • "Ringi" system of decision making:

    • During discussions, we pass around a proposal document, the ringisho, which usually begins at the mid-management level. When the proposal reaches each person, they read it, sometimes make changes or suggestions, and then put their stamp of approval on it. Once everyone has approved at one level, it passes on to the next. The next higher-ranking managers then discuss the new idea themselves and arrive at their own consensus. If they agree, they pass the approval to the next level. This process continues until the idea reaches the highest management level and is or is not implemented. As you can see, the ringi system is hierarchical, bottom-up, and consensual all at the same time. By the time the ringisho document has made the rounds and received everyone's seal, all the people involved in the decision have had a chance to give input and are in agreement.

  • Avoiding culture clashes when making decisions Sweden, Netherlands, Germany:

    • Expect the decision-making process to take longer and to involve more meetings and correspondence.

    • Do your best to demonstrate patience and commitment throughout the process...even when diverging opinions lead to seemingly interminable discussions and indecision.

    • Check-in with your counterparts regularly to show your commitment and be available to answer questions.

    • Cultivate informal contacts within the team to help you monitor where the group is in the decision-making process. Otherwise, you may find that a consensus is forming without your awareness or participation.

    • Resist the temptation to push for a quick decision. Instead, focus on the quality and completeness of the information gathered and the soundness of the reasoning process. Remember, once a decision is made, it will be difficult to try to change it.

  • Avoiding culture clashes when making decisions China, India, Russia:

    • Expect decisions to be made by the boss with less discussion and less soliciting of opinions than you are accustomed to. The decision may be made before, during, or after a meeting, depending on the organizational culture and the individual involved.

    • Be ready to follow a decision even if your input was not solicited or was overruled. It's possible for a project to produce success even if the initial plan was not the best one that could have been devised.

    • When you are in charge, solicit input and listen carefully to different viewpoints, but strive to make decisions quickly. Otherwise, you may find you are viewed as an indecisive or ineffective leader.

    • When the group is divided about how to make it forward, and no obvious leader is present, suggest a vote. All members are expected to follow the decision supported by the majority, even if they disagree.

    • Remain flexible throughout the process. Decisions are rarely set in stone; most can later be adjusted, revisited, or discussed again if necessary.

  • What the Americans didn't understand was that these lunches and dinners symbolized something critical for the Brazilians. "For us, this type of lunch is supposed to send a clear message," "Dear colleagues, who have come such a long distance to work with us, we would like to show you that we respect you—and even if nothing else happens during these two days besides getting to know each other at a deeper level and developing a personal connection and trust, we will have made very good use of our time together."

  • In countries like the United States or Switzerland, "business is business." In countries like China or Brazil, "business is personal."

  • If you are a peach person traveling in a coconut culture, be aware of the Russian saying, "If we pass a stranger on the street who is smiling, we know with certainty that that person is crazy...or else American."

  • Shen was shocked by the willingness of her French colleagues to challenge her ideas in a public forum. As she put it, "In China, protecting another person's face is more important than stating what you believe is correct."

  • Yoshisaki suggested that Madsen avoid giving his opinion first. He also suggested that Madsen ask the team to meet without him and report back their ideas. "As long as the boss is present," "the group will seek to find out what his opinion is and defer respectfully to him." This is a technique that's worth trying whenever you find yourself managing a team whose cultural background makes it difficult for them to speak freely in your presence.

  • I was learning that flexible-time cultures, like India, tend to emphasize leaving many boxes open and working on all of them simultaneously. One thing at the time? That may be common sense in Stockholm, but not in Indore.

  • In flexible-time cultures, it seems clear that the most productive meetings grow in unpredictable ways, and the effective manager is flexible and professional enough to capitalize on priorities and changing needs as they arise. Interruptions, agenda changes, and frequent shifts in direction are seen as natural and necessary.

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