The Culture Solution: How to achieve cultural synergy and get results in the global workplace, by Deirdre Mendez. Nicholas Brealey, 2017. 340 pages.
Reviewed by Craig Storti
I don't know how well this book is selling—intercultural books sometimes have trouble finding an audience outside our professional field—but it deserves the widest possible exposure, especially in the business community. The Culture Solution introduces eight fundamental intercultural concepts and then connects them to their everyday workplace and business consequences, thus making a very strong business and workplace case for the need for folks to identify and adapt to cultural differences.
“But a lot of books do that,” you’re thinking. “What’s so special about this one?” True enough. Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map and Barry Tomalin and Mike Nicks The World’s Business Cultures and How to Unlock Them, to mention only two, both do a nice job of this. What sets Mendez book apart is the amount of connections she finds between cultural tendencies and resulting behaviors and the wide number of business contexts she considers.
Mendez identifies and describes eight cultural dimensions, what she calls:
- Clarity: indirect—direct
- Emotion: neutral—expressive
- Status: achievement—endowment
- Involvement: network—process
- Collaboration: independent—group
- Authority: rule—situation
- Action: opportunity—thoroughness
- Organization: schedule—flow
She then invites readers to respond to a series of scenarios vis a vis each dimension, creating their own cultural profile in the process, which she next invites them to contrast with the profile “of the person, group, or place whose cultural tendencies you’d like to understand.” So far pretty straightforward.
Then come the charts—and they’re dynamite! Mendez takes each of the eight fundamentals, connects each end of each dichotomy to the most common behaviors they cause or at least explain, in the process identifying and describing scores of very specific behavioral tendencies and preferences.
Then, having defined key differences, she presents another set of “advice” charts, setting forth very specific strategies for how folks with one set of tendencies and preferences can work effectively with folks with the opposite set. These charts are broken down into a variety of specific business and workplace contexts, such as: being persuasive, intercultural team management, strategies for hiring, job-seeking, and management, intercultural sales, intercultural negotiations.
These charts team with real life; if you can’t relate to the rest of the book—some business types might be in a hurry—the information in the charts will grab you. Here are a couple of examples:
On the status dimension, the two extremes are achievement and endowment. If you’re more achievement-oriented and are working with more endowment-oriented types, Mendez advises as follows:
As a senior you should delay making decisions or answering questions until you have the answers; indecision and acknowledging ignorance are perceived as weakness.
To the endowment types working with the achievement types, she advises:
As a senior it’s better to admit that you don’t know something than to hide it; being wrong is allright as long as you correct mistakes and learn from them.
On the emotion dimension, the two extremes are neutral and expressive. If you’re a neutral working with an expressive:
Don’t be intimidated by displays of annoyance or frustration; these may not indicate serious problems.
And for you expressive types:
Avoid showing anger or frustration which can be seen as unprofessional or even alarming.
There must be between 100-200 hundred of pieces of advice like that spread throughout the charts, and therein lies the real value of this book. Indeed, one slight quibble I have is that sometimes it’s not clear just where you are in some parts of this book or vis a vis some charts. What is the set that a particular series of charts are the subsets of? But the advice is so practical that it doesn't matter if you get lost now and then. You don’t always have to know exactly where you are in these pages to understand the points being made.
Every interculturalist should have this book handy against those times when a business person questions whether people from other cultures “can really be all that different.” Just hand them The Culture Solution and that will be the end the discussion.