Diversity and Cultural Awareness
How Much Attention Should We Pay to Cultural Differences Between People?
It’s not a new concept that leaders in business should pay more attention to particular differences among people from other cultures, or to what is often generally called cultural diversity. However, in an increasingly Internet connected world and one in which there is now so much international job mobility this may require even more attention, and may trump other diversity factors such as age or gender (although these factors are important and should be taken into account too).
Cultural differences expert author and INSEAD business school professor Erin Meyer’s book called “The Culture Map” not only makes the point that cultural differences are a critical issue to consider but offers a whole framework by which we should evaluate the differences between people from various countries when we are trying to do business with them. In offering this assessment, she says that people should be treated as individuals first (as a wide range of personality preferences will clearly come into play). However, she also says that a greater understanding of national cultural preferences provides a very useful foundation for better understanding and ultimately improved communication and decision-making. Let’s therefore look briefly at what these eight scales are and what it means to be at either extreme of each.
By understanding where a person from a given country falls on each of these scales we can readily discover where perspectives may be different (and in some cases dramatically so) and take specific steps to make both parties more aware of these differences in order to help them collaborate more effectively. This may not always work of course (as other factors may come into play more powerfully), but Meyer’s framework provides useful language for a very rich and helpful discussion to occur. Of course, many cultures are somewhere between the two extremes on each scale so it is important to then understand their relative position. For example, according to Meyer, the French would generally see the British to be confrontation avoidant whereas the Japanese would see the British to be quite confrontational in debate on the same scale.
For those interested in particular culture maps and differences between individual countries, the link at hbr.org based on Meyer’s work in the field is particularly helpful.