Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map

It’s been a while since I’ve written a book review, but along with my New Year’s resolutions comes a renewed commitment to stick my nose in a novel more often. And so far, so good.

I’ve just put down Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map, and while I found it a bit of a slow start, it definitely provided some new perspectives on intercultural communication. As a New Zealander living in The Netherlands, I live and breathe the challenges that come with stepping outside of your own culture on a daily basis.

And yet, never before have I had such a concrete frame of reference with which to understand this. In The Culture Map, Meyer positions different cultures relative to one another on various scales and draws on current research as well as personal experience to decode these. This includes analysis on aspects such as:

  • Communicating (Low-context –  High context)
  • Evaluating (Direct Negative Feedback – Indirect Negative Feedback)
  • Leading (Egalitarian – Hierarchical)
  • Deciding (Consensual – Top-down)
  • Trusting (Task-based – Relationship-based)
  • Scheduling (Linear time –  Flexible time)
  • Persuading (Principles First –  Applications First)

For example, Meyer’s mapping allows you to compare how two (or more) cultures build trust, give negative feedback, and make decisions. She poses: which is the most hierarchical? Which is the most punctual? Which is more forceful in expressing disagreement?

What did I learn?

Like many kiwis, I believe in an egalitarian approach to leadership paired with low context communication and consensual decision-making. However, perhaps it’s having lived in The Netherlands for so long that now leads me towards a great appreciation for direct negative feedback and a love for linear, rather than flexible time management.

On a personal note, this book helped me to understand why my boyfriend, an Italian engineer, thinks with a “principles first” model of persuasion and on a professional level, why I’ve experienced some differences working with both Kenyans and Germans. A big omission, yes, but this book certainly provides a great tool to enhance cultural understanding and even better, how to make the best of these differences. 


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