Assess Your Cultural Profile

Assess Your Cultural Profile

When people talk about cultures, they often paint with a broad brush: He is so American, so French, or so Japanese. But individuals within a culture vary enormously in their behaviors and attitudes, and many societies have distinct subcultures. Even a small country like Switzerland (which has four national languages) is far from homogenous.

Erin Meyer, author of The Culture Map and “Navigating the Cultural Minefield” (HBR May 2014), has identified eight dimensions that together capture most of the differences within and among cultures — a much more nuanced approach than focusing on just one or two elements, as people usually do.

Using her method, Meyer has developed a new assessment tool for hbr.org. It allows you to see where you fall on the eight scales. She also offers insights about where people in countries other than your own typically land on the scales.

So have some fun trying out the self-assessment. After your results are tabulated, you’ll receive a personal profile that can help you identify where cultural or personal differences may be enhancing or limiting your potential as you interact in a diverse world. Maybe, for example, you identify strongly as Swiss, but you don’t necessarily communicate in the same way many of your Swiss colleagues do.

Whether you’re from Switzerland or South Dakota, the trap is in assuming that you “know” people because you have identified their cultural pedigree. Without understanding all the dimensions of their behavior and your own, you probably won’t figure out what’s behind the harmony — and the friction — you encounter with them. Meyer’s test will help you deepen and broaden your perspective.

Just be careful about comparing yourself with people across international boundaries. For example, you may be a Swiss who, when it comes to scheduling, is very laid back compared with your national average — but don’t then assume that you’ll be comfortable living in, say, India, where people often do take a relaxed approach on this dimension. Meyer’s scale on scheduling might suggest you’d be happier in Lausanne or Geneva than in Zurich, but Indians occupy a whole other range on this scale — so you still may not adjust well to life in Mumbai.

Managers can also use the tool to learn a bit more about variations within countries they’re unfamiliar with. Suppose you’re French but managing a team in India. Chances are you don’t distinguish carefully enough among the people on your team (and the various subcultures they hail from). Have each team member take Meyer’s test so that you can paint a more complete picture of what they’re like, and compare everyone’s results with those from your self-assessment.

Source: Harvard Business Review / David Champion

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