Erin Meyer's work focuses on how the world's most successful leaders navigate the complexities of cultural differences in a multicultural environment. (Photo: Denny Jacob/ALM) Erin Meyer’s work focuses on how the world’s most successful leaders navigate the complexities of a multicultural environment. (Photo: Denny Jacob/ALM)

Businesses today operate on a global scale, and that impacts the risks they face.

Managing these risks requires clear, culturally-sensitive communications.

That was the message behind the keynote opening earlier this week during the 2019 RIMS Annual Conference in Boston. The presentation featured Erin Meyer, author of, “The Culture Map: Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business.”

Meyer spoke about a communications strategy she calls culture mapping. “A culture map is a system that breaks down cultural differences into eight behavioral scales,” Meyer said.

Through about 180,000 interviews conducted in 57 countries, the author’s eight scales probe behavior related to communication, evaluation, leadership, decision-making, trust, disagreements, scheduling and persuasion.

She said different cultures build trust and make decisions in different ways. Understanding the various cultures that exist around the world will help businesses strengthen their relationship with global partners while simultaneously bolstering their risk management efforts.

Connecting culture and risk management

The risk management field will continue to garner attention as established and emerging risks arise and branch into new fields going forward. Of the eight scales on Meyer’s culture map, communication, decision-making and trust will be crucial to reining in risks.

Businesses with global partners must remember that communication varies by country and culture: How people communicate in the United States is not necessarily how people in Italy communicate; and the way individuals in Japan communicate may not be how individuals in Colombia communicate.

For example, in a low-context culture — like the U.S. — communication with others assumes there is a low level of shared reference points. Meyers says these cultures believe good, professional communication is very explicit: If you’re giving a presentation, you might tell the audience what they can expect to hear, tell them the information and then reiterate what you’ve told them.

But in a high-context culture — like Japan — the assumption is that there is a high level of shared reference points. These cultures believe that good, effective communication is layered and implicit.

Companies should consider whether their partners come from low-context cultures, high-context cultures or something in between. Those from low-context cultures may feel those from high-context cultures are lacking transparency or hiding information. Conversely, those from high-context cultures may feel those from low-context cultures are condescending as they state and restate their intentions.

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