Oldie but Goodie: Map of Key Cultural Differences

Intercultural communication is about how we can communicate effectively with one another. A frequent approach to improving intercultural communication is to develop our understanding of ourselves and of others. And probably the most common way of doing that is to teach about cultural differences, often referred to as the “dimensions of culture.”

There are many different versions of the dimensions of culture. I generally find them valuable as tools to help us compare cultures, or to cognitively learn about ourselves and others. And I also find they really limit us. While not intended this way, their use has a tendency to reify culture, to cause us to think about culture as a “thing” rather than a process. It’s why I’m such a fan of the Cultural Detective Worksheet: it’s a process for understanding self and others, for leveraging similarities and differences in order to collaborate in more innovative, rewarding, and satisfying ways.

Enough about that. This post is about cultural differences. In my training one of the ways I talk about cultural differences is to ask people to think of them as a map of the terrain, and to use them as a scanning tool. In a given interaction, which difference(s) got in the way? For example, was status important for her and not for me, and I just missed it? Was it a different sense of responsibility that really upset me? Maybe he likes to do several things at once, and I’m more one-thing-at-a-time? Was it the fact that I don’t think religion belongs in the workplace that caused him to think I’m not trustworthy?

That is how the map above came to be. It is a graphic summary of some of the cultural differences or dimensions, at least as I saw them back in 2008. It is available for you to use freely under a Creative Commons license. You can introduce the various cultural differences to your team and then, when you get mired in cross-cultural miscommunication, you can take out your map of differences and decipher just which dimension might be causing the problem. Or, maybe it’s something not even on the map.

Just click on the link above for a larger image, and to download the accompanying 11-page article entitled, “Detecting the Culprits of Miscommunication: Values, Actions and Beliefs.” Please feel free to copy and distribute, as long as you retain the copyright and source url.

I’m really interested to hear from you about how you use the dimensions of culture to promote effective interaction. What are your tools and techniques? Your dos and don’ts? And what do you think about this “map of the culprits of miscommunication” idea?

8 thoughts on “Oldie but Goodie: Map of Key Cultural Differences

  1. Comment Stream on this post from the Cultural Detective group on Linked In:
    Olivier Marsily • Hi Dianne,
    so good to get this now. I just started a two day program with a young VP at a major US company and the map will contribute to further create insight. I will also link the explanation to Emotional Intelligence and competences as to discuss leadership styles development.
    Your document could not reach me on a better moment.

    Dianne Hofner Saphiere • So glad when the universe delivers to us just what we need when we need it, Olivier! So glad you were open to receive it! Lucky VP to be working with you.

    Lucia Ann [Shan] McSpadden • Dianne, this pulls together so much signifiant information. I will be able to use this many times over in the workshops I lead for clergy in cross-racial/cross-cultural assignments and their congregations. As Oliver said, this map will also work well with engaging the differences in expected leadership style which are often a major challenge. I really appreciate getting this and sharing it with our team of facilitators.

    Dianne Hofner Saphiere • I am oh-so-glad if it can help, Shan! Thank you for putting it to such terrific use in contexts (congregations) that are so important to their members!

    Olivier Marsily • Some feedback from my session.
    After we covered general aspects of cross-cultural differences I became more personal by asking the participant for personal experience. The result was great, he came up with early career experiences and compared them to his reactions/feelings today. Sharing created insight and he ended up making a personal action plan where the focus on the emotional development was predominant.
    He got highly satisfied.

    Dianne Hofner Saphiere • Thank you for the update, Olivier, and congratulations! I believe the combination that you facilitate: helping participants get to know themselves as INDIVIDUALS and also in the CONTEXT OF CULTURE is really powerful. And then taking the time to really help the participants integrate their learning into their repertoires and intentions.

    Have you taken a look at our MashUp courses? Barbara Schaetti, Heather Robinson and I are convinced this combination is powerful jumpstart to cross-cultural productivity in the vein described above. We have had such huge success with it. Woudl love to have you join our “live” course at SIIC in Portland in July
    or our blended learning course online September-December.

    Marie-Therese Claes • Thank you for the map Dianne! Great tool.

    Heather McLaughlin • Fantastic resource which pulls so much together! I begin by getting people to look at their personal jigsaw of values from their upbringing and life experiences that influences why they act and respond the way they do and which cause a cultural clash when challenged. I then look at different cultural perspectives to show how misunderstandings arise when people default to negative interpretations when none was intended.

    Dianne Hofner Saphiere • Heather and Marie-Therese, so glad you both found it helpful. Your jigsaw idea sounds fun, Heather. I’d use a real jigsaw puzzle and let them write or draw their values/experiences on it, then put it together…..

    Heather McLaughlin • I use jigsaw pieces on paper and they have to dig deep to reflect on how each piece has influcened them. I also use a jigsaw to introduce two people with very different cultural values and ask people to think why they might prefer one person to another – showing how we connect more easily to people who reflect our cultural values.

    Dianne Hofner Saphiere • LOVE it, Heather! I want to take your class!

    Lucia Ann [Shan] McSpadden • Dianne, that is an intriguing way to work with these complexities.


  2. Pingback: Resumen de las principales diferencias culturales | Cultural Detective Blog

    • Dear Helen,

      Thank you very much for letting us know! We redid our website and I know it will be a long road till we catch all old links that no longer work. I’ve updated this article thanks to you, so please give it a go again. We have consolidated most of our free gifts into one place on our site now, hopefully to make things easier for the user. It will ask you to enter your email first, but after that you can download whatever you want: http://www.culturaldetective.com/freebies.html


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