Culture, Values

Never out of fashion

In order to thrive and succeed in this increasingly globalized world, it is important for anyone and particularly so for the ones in business world to be able to determine which aspects of human interactions are a result of personality and which are the results of cultural perspectives. Erin Meyer’s book “The Culture Map” lays out eight aspects (or scales) using which different cultures can be compared with one another. It also recommends strategies for working with people across cultures.

To be able to effectively work in a multicultural setup, one needs to be aware of not only the relative position of his/her culture in comparison to other cultures but also the relative positions of other cultures among one another on each of the eight comparative scales. For example, on scheduling scale, Germans are more schedule oriented than English, English more than French and eastern cultures that are flexible with time on the other side of the spectrum. Erin reasons out, as much as possible, cultures’ position on a given scale and that makes the book an interesting read. One of the key scales she talks about is “evaluating.” It is interesting to see how various high-context (implicit communication/read between the lines) and low-context (explicit communication/direct) cultures handle negative feedback. For example Russians have a high-context culture but give negative feedback directly and on the contrary Americans have a low-context culture but give indirect (often sugar-coated) negative feedback. Erin also points out that, possibly, more the dependence of a culture on the context of interaction, fewer are the words in the language. For example, French is highly contextual and thus only has approximately 70,000 words, whilst English which is less contextual has 500,000 words.

While Erin provides us tools to understand cultures, Adam Grant in his “Give and Take” takes us a step closer to understanding personalities- Givers, Matchers and Takers — and values one must look for or uphold in order to build or succeed in an organizational context. Understandably, Givers are helpful to others at their own expense and end up at the bottom of the organizational pyramid and Takers in the upper part of the pyramid with Matchers in between. But it’s not all bad news for Givers, as over time, their positive karma bears fruit and helps them succeed and reach the highest levels. We can see that in societal and historical contexts that all great leaders demonstrated giver values.

I strongly believe that those with right set of values and an accepting approach to  differences cultural and otherwise will never be out of fashion and particularly so in the machine age.


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