Book reviews / Non fiction

Book review: The Culture Map

I picked this book up off a video that one of my colleagues shared (cultural bias in design) as I do a lot of international work (though, my work is also generally pretty international).

The points in the video were really well made, and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to read around a little more, to hopefully avoid some future mishaps along the way.

In general, the book is about the different kinds of behaviour in different cultures, and how this can cause frustration if you don’t realise it. Things like how people like to approach meetings, or how people develop trust, or even how they like to receive feedback.

The book is tremendously easy to read, with many useful examples to help demonstrate the points the author was making. I also liked the references to research as I am biased towards a good study. In some ways the solutions to a lot of the problems are “basically talk about it” and hash out the ways your different teams should work together.

Sometimes in my job I won’t have the luxury of getting to know someone first before having to work with them, but probably writing off things that annoy me as cultural differences will help me get on with things, rather than to let them bother me.

I definitely recognised some of the cultural differences with different colleagues I’ve had over the years, which made me reflect a lot on how I must come across. I must admit, I’m a pretty straight to the point person, who likes to vigorously discuss things openly. However, in a few situations I can see where that might come across as pretty jarring to people who like more introspection first.

I’m now just wondering how we can incorporate some of the ideas into work in a low-key way, as I’m not sure we’ll always have the time to do this properly. But it might also be a useful way to diagnose things, when delivery isn’t going according to plan.

Anyway, I liked it. I think it’s useful for everyone to read, whether you work in a diverse team or not. As the book points out, not everyone acts according to their culture, so just understanding the way your team likes to work is important. One thing that I’ve quite liked in teams in the past is a ‘manual of me’ where you specify different ways you like to work. Such as:

  • I like to wear headphones when cracking on with something, but I’m still interrupt-able
  • I don’t mind people just popping things into my calendar without asking me first
  • I don’t mind moving things around in my calendar if people need help with something

The use of ‘quite’ in that phrase reminded me of the different interpretation between me and my partner. I use ‘quite’ as an amplifier (so if it’s quite good, it’s really good) but my partner uses it in the opposite way. And we’re both English speaking.

Anyway, I think I’m pretty easy going, but I imagine I might someone who is even more easy going that might annoy me. But hopefully I’ll recognise this and not take it personally!

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