Book Review

The culture map by Erin Meyer

I learned about this book from an INSEAD (Business School) post on LinkedIn. I decided to read it for two main reasons. The first one is that I came to a point in my life whereby navigating cultural differences seems to be a critical success factor; the second reason is the fact that the book has been so highly praised that it seemed like a must-read.It is indeed a must-read.

The book portrays how culture is invisible yet it makes or breaks relations whether those are personal or professional. The author draws on her experience, research and studies, and personal observations. Meyer writes in a very subtle way. At times, the book seems funny as well especially when she speaks about incidents she herself went through.I personally liked the book and if I learn about another one by the same author, I would surely get it and read it.

The book is structured in a way that any business person relates to. It is also filled with actionable tactics to a better living across cultures. The book describes how differently various cultures give feedback, communicate, perceive productivity, build trust, present, persuade, and many other common situations we all go through almost on a daily basis.We are all concerned by this book as we are part of a fully connected world.

This book is inspiring. It makes you feel that you are not alone. It also equips you to succeed socially and professionally. I related to so many chapters in the book. I am Lebanese, I live in Dubai, I work with more than 20 nationalities on a daily basis as a management consultant in a multinational consulting firm. I also travel on a weekly basis to different countries and I run projects with virtual teams. It is only fair to say that I needed this book to understand how one can best adapt without losing his or her soul.

Culture is a minefield. If you do not understand it, it is very common to fall in the trap of differences rather than transforming them into opportunities to learn, adapt, and grow.The author offers tools that seem to have succeeded. One of them is the country mapping tool that I personally found very useful. As an example, this tool enables you to identify the extent to which your culture is hierarchical, punctual, forceful in expressing disagreement, and other traits, in comparison to a number of other cultures you are concerned with. 

I recently had to interact very closely with two senior groups. One is Dutch and the other is British. While the Dutch make things easier for me in their openness and transparency as for them a no means a no, a yes means a yes. Others may perceive this approach as too harsh and lacking empathy; I also had to deal with British who convey messages oftentimes indirectly. While you expect feedback, you’d oftentimes get “interesting” which does not necessarily mean that what you said or produced is interesting. Some people may find this approach subtle and sensitive to others.

Having become a big fan of the author, I also follow and read her blog. In one of her posts she also refers to situations where we struggle to understand what best to do: speak up or shut up. This brought me to another sensible observation in cultural differences. Cultures think differently of age, tenure, gender, and other factors that also feed into how we are, and how we perceive things. My take on culture mapping is that it is not an inward exercise. To succeed in working and living with other cultures, one must focus on others. It is only then that one lets go of his or her rigid thoughts to understand, adapt, or even adopt the wealth of differences others have.

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