Explanation of graphic and definition of scales
Cultural differences in workplace behavior can be assessed along the eight scales shown . But keep in mind that both within and across cultures, individuals can vary considerably. Not all Indians are equally unpunctual; not all Dutch are equally outspoken. A Brazilian might be schedule-obsessed relative to his compatriots but still strike Swiss colleagues as being very lax about timing and agendas.
Communicating. This scale measures the degree to which cultures are high- or low-context, a metric developed by the anthropologist Edward Hall. In low-context cultures at the far left of the spectrum (such as the USA , Germany, and the Netherlands), good communication is precise, simple, explicit, and clear. Messages are expressed and understood at face value. Repetition and putting messages in writing is appreciated, in order to clarify the communication. In high-context cultures (such as Japan, India, and France), communication is sophisticated, nuanced, and layered. Messages are both spoken and read between the lines. Less is put in writing and more is left for verbal interpretation.
Evaluating. This scale measures a preference for frank versus diplomatic criticism. It is often confused with Communicating, but many countries have different positions on the two scales. The French, for example, are high-context communicators relative to Americans, yet they are much more direct when it comes to negative feedback. The Spanish and Mexicans are equally high-context, but the Spanish are much more direct with negative feedback than the Mexicans.
Persuading. This scale measures a preference for inductive versus deductive arguments. Individuals from Southern European and Germanic cultures tend to find deductive reasoning more persuasive whereas Americans and British managers typically prefer an inductive style.
Leading. This scale measures the degree of respect and deference shown to authority figures, placing people on a spectrum between the egalitarian and the hierarchical. The former include the US and Israel, while countries such as China, Russia, France, and Japan are hierarchical. The metric is based on the concept of power distance, first researched by Geert Hofstede, who conducted 100,000 management surveys at IBM in the 1970s, and on the work of Professors Robert House and Mansour Javidan in their "The Globe Study of 62 Societies."
Deciding. We often assume that the most egalitarian cultures in the world will also be the most consensual, and that the most hierarchical ones are those where the boss makes unilateral decisions. This is not always the case. The Japanese are both strongly hierarchical and one of the most consensual cultures in the world. The Germans are more hierarchical than Americans but also more likely to make decisions through team consensus. This scale explores differences between building team agreement and relying on an individual (usually the boss) to make decisions.
Trusting. Here we balance cognitive trust (from the head) with affective trust (from the heart). In task-based cultures, like the US, Britain, and Germany, trust is built through work. (We work well together, we like each other’s work, we like each other so I trust you.) In a relationship-based society, like Brazil, Japan, or India), trust is a result of weaving a personal, affective connection. (We have laughed together, shared time relaxing together, gotten to know each other at a deep personal level--so I trust you.) Many scholars, such as Roy Chua and Michael Morris, have researched this topic.
Disagreeing. Everyone knows a little open disagreement is healthy, right? The recent American business literature certainly confirms this viewpoint. But different cultures have very different ideas about how productive confrontation is for a team or organization. Counties like China, Japan, and India view the public airing of disagreement very dimly, while the US, France, and the Netherlands are quite comfortable having spirited, confrontational meetings. This scale measures how you view open disagreement - whether you feel it is likely to improve team dynamics or negatively impact team relationships.
Scheduling . All businesses follow timetables, but in some cultures such as India, Brazil, and Italy, people treat the schedule as a suggestion, while others stick to the agenda (such as Switzerland Germany, and the USA). This metric looks at how much value you place on being structured versus reactive. It is based on the "monochronic” and "polychronic” distinction formalized by Edward Hall.Further reading :
Erin Meyer. "Navigating the Cultural Minefield" (HBR May 2014)
The country positions on these eight scales come from research conducted by the author and other experts.
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Printed on March 26, 2023