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Guide to the Cultural Differences

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Cultural differences are not only in a way of your behaviours and interactions with others but also in the way you act and react to certain events.

Do you think your culture is better than others? No culture is better than any other culture, and many cultures are not as good as others. You need to avoid thinking that your ways are always better than those of others.

The Culture Map book from Erin Meyer helps you to understand cultural differences and breaks through the invisible boundaries of global business.

What is a Culture Map?

" The Culture Map guides you through the subtle, sometimes treacherous terrain, in which people from starkly different backgrounds are expected to work harmoniously together, often without even leaving their desks."

Why is it Important? When things are obvious, then a conflict rapidly escalates.

When was the last time, you thought you were right and the other person not, or didn't want to understand you?

“We are conditioned to see the world in our own cultures seems so completely obvious and commonplace that it is difficult to imagine that another culture might do things differently.”

The culture map navigates you what are the components in business which cause misunderstanding, especially in a multi-cultural work environment.

What are the Components of a Culture Map?

Culture Map provides eight cultural scales which assist in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the organization’s culture. The culture map is not just a tool for management. It also helps employees to understand how their values align with the company and how they can best contribute to its success.

When comparing different cultures remember cultural relativity, which is cultural beliefs and practices should be understood based on that culture

The eight scales: Each scale is divided into two types of categories.

  1. Communicating In Low -Context, good communication means being precise, simple and clear. Messages are expressed and understood directly without unnecessary information. Repetition is appreciated if it helps to clarify the communication. Countries: Germany, Netherlands, USA, Australia, and Canada, follow low context communication in the business world.

In High-Context good communication means being sophisticated, nuanced and layered. Messages are spoken, and non-spoken. Reading between lines and knowing the cultural aspects are necessary to understand the message. Most Asian people do not use “No” words or say No in any form. They hide the NO message in their context. Countries: Japan, Korea, and Indonesia have the highest context communication culture.

2. Evaluating Direct negative feedback means providing negative feedback frankly, bluntly, and honestly. Negative messages stand-alone not softened by positive ones. They are easy to decode and simple sign of honesty and transparency. Criticism may be given to an individual in front of a group. The most used words: totally inappropriate, and completely unprofessional. Countries: Russia, Israel, Netherlands, and Germany are the most direct negative feedback culture.

Generally speaking, low context communication style usually comes with the direct negative feedback evolution process. Interestingly the USA, Canada and UK are in the middle of the scale. Americans, British and Canadians are less direct and give more indirect negative feedback than Western European culture.

Indirect negative feedback means negative feedback provides softly, subtly, and diplomatically. Positive messages are used to wrap up negative ones. Criticism is given only in private. Most used words: sort of inappropriate, and slightly unprofessional. Countries: Japan, Thailand, and Indonesia are the most indirect negative feedback culture.

A "great" example of Angol-Dutch misunderstandings.


3. Persuading: Application first approach is begun with the fact, statement or opinion and later adds concepts to back up or explain the conclusion as necessary. The preference is to begin a message or report with an executive summary or bullet point. The focus is on the “how” rather than the “why”. Theoretical or philosophical discussions are avoided in a business environment. Countries: America, Canada, and Australia like the most the application first approach in the persuade process.

Principle first approach is first developing the theory or complex before presenting the fact, statement, or opinion. The preference is to begin the message or report by building up a theoretical argument before moving on to the conclusion. The focus is on the “why” rather than the ‘how”. Important to know the reason behind the why before moving to action. Countries: Italy, France, Russia, and Spain like the principle first approach in the persuasion process.

4. Leading In the Egalitarian leading style, the ideal distance between a leader and a subordinate is low. The best leader is a facilitator among equals, acting like one of the team. Organisational structures are flat. Communication often skips hierarchical lines. It’s okay to email or calls people several levels below or above you and to disagree with the boss openly. Countries: Denmark, Sweden and Netherlands leading in an egalitarian way.

In the Hierarchical style, the ideal distance between a leader and a subordinate is high. The best leader is a director who leads from the front and is not part of the team. Status is important. Organisational structures are multi-layered and fixed. Communication follows set hierarchical lines. Never skip lines. Countries: Japan, Korea, Nigeria and China leading in a hierarchical way.

5. Deciding Consensual decisions are made in groups through unanimous agreement. Making decisions take longer time with all discussions and meetings with all concerned parties. After the decision is made usually it’s final and the implementation process is rapid. Countries: Japan, Sweden, Netherlands, and Germany make their decisions based on consensual.

Top-down decisions are made by usually the boss. The decision may be made before, after or during the meeting. There are the following decisions can be made and the decision is later adjusted and revisited. The simple agreement is to continue with further discussions. The process requires flexibility, the implementation process is longer. Countries: Nigeria, China, India, and Russia make their decisions based on the top-down process. Interestingly US decision-making is a more top-down process.

6. Trusting Task-based relationship means trust is built through business-related activities. Work relationships are built and dropped easily, based on the practicality of the situation. When your work is consistently good, “you are reliable, I enjoy working with you, therefore I trust you.” Friendliness doesn’t equal friendship. Countries: US, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, and Australia business relationship is task-based.

Task-based culture is also known as peach culture. People from Peach cultures are said to be “soft” on the outside. They are friendly to people they have just met, frequently smile at strangers, chat, share information (not necessarily deep conversation), and even share pictures. They are very nice and helpful to strangers.

Relationship-based is built through sharing meals, evening drinks, and visits to the based coffee machine. Work relationships build up slowly over the long term and sharing personal time with others leads to trust. “I've seen who you are at a deep level, I've shared personal time with you, I know others well who trust you, and I trust you.” built through sharing meals, evening drinks, and visits to the based coffee machine. Countries: Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, India and China business relationship is relationship-based.

Relationship-based culture is also known as coconut culture. People from Coconut cultures are described as “hard” on the outside: Rarely smile at a stranger, do not engage in conversations easily, do not talk about personal information with strangers, and mostly keep to themselves or stay with their close friends and family.

Are you a peach or coconut culture? Here you can find it out.

7. Disagreeing Confrontational disagreement and debate are positive for the team or organization. Open confrontation is appropriate and will not negatively impact the relationship. Most conformational disagreement cultures are less emotionally expressed. They do not take any disagreements as a personal attack but rather as a valuable intellectual exercise from which truth emerges. Countries: Israel, France, Germany, Russia and Netherlands are disagreeing in the most confrontational way.

Avoids confrontation: Disagreement and debate are negative for the team or organisation. Open confrontation is inappropriate and will break group harmony or negatively impact the relationship. Most avoid confrontation cultures are emotionally expressed. They do take any disagreements as a personal attack. If you attack my idea, I feel you are attacking me also. Therefore, I want to avoid disagreement to keep our relationship. Countries: Japan, Thailand, and Indonesia are avoided confrontational in most disagreements.

8. Scheduling Linear-time schedule means project steps are approached sequentially, completing one task before beginning the next. One thing at a time. No interruptions. The focus is on the deadline and sticking to the schedule. Emphasis is on promptness and good organization over flexibility. Time is valuable and means money. The meeting starts with punctuality and finishes on time, which is a simple sign to respect each other time. Countries: Switzerland, Germany, and Japan like the linear-time schedule and the most punctual culture.

Flexible-time schedule means project steps are approached fluidly, changing tasks as opportunities arise. Many things are dealt with at once and interruptions are accepted. The focus is on adaptability, and flexibility is valued in the organization. Countries: Saudi Arabia, India, Nigeria and Kenya like the most the flexible schedule.


Each culture is different. No culture is better than any other culture, and many cultures are not as good as others. It can often be difficult to examine other perspectives as it is natural for all of us to be partial to our own beliefs. To truly understand others' points of view, you need to be open minding and start to identify what is typical in your culture, but different from others. Then you can begin an open dialogue by sharing, and learning with the other person.

How to Create a Culture Map for Your Organization?

Erin Meyer provides the following tools:

  1. The Country Mapping Tool

  2. The Personal Profile Tool

  3. The Team Mapping Tool

  4. The Corporate Culture Mapping Tool

Creat harmony in your organisation.

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