|Young businessman. Photo: Graphicstock|
A world traveler who speaks ten languages, British linguist Richard Lewis decided he was qualified to plot the world's cultures on a chart.
He did so while acknowledging the dangers of stereotypes.
"Determining national characteristics is treading a minefield of inaccurate assessment and surprising exception," Lewis wrote. "There is, however, such a thing as a national norm."
Many people think he nailed it, as his book " When Cultures Collide ," now in its third edition, has sold more than one million copies since it was first published in 1996 and was called "an authoritative roadmap to navigating the world's economy," by the Wall Street Journal.
Lewis plots countries in relation to three categories:
Linear-actives — those who plan, schedule, organize, pursue action chains, do one thing at a time. Germans and Swiss are in this group.
Multi-actives — those lively, loquacious peoples who do many things at once, planning their priorities not according to a time schedule, but according to the relative thrill or importance that each appointment brings with it. Italians, Latin Americans and Arabs are members of this group.
Reactives — those cultures that prioritize courtesy and respect, listening quietly and calmly to their interlocutors and reacting carefully to the other side's proposals. Chinese, Japanese and Finns are in this group.
He says that this categorization of national norms does not change significantly over time:
The behavior of people of different cultures is not something willy-nilly. There exist clear trends, sequences and traditions. Reactions of Americans, Europeans, and Asians alike can be forecasted, usually justified and in the majority of cases managed. Even in countries where political and economic change is currently rapid or sweeping (Russia, China, Hungary, Poland, Korea, Malaysia, etc.) deeply rooted attitudes and beliefs will resist a sudden transformation of values when pressured by reformists, governments or multinational conglomerates.
Here's the chart that explains the world:
Lewis' insights on negotiating with people around the world.
- Americans lay their cards on the table and resolve disagreements quickly with one or both sides making concessions.
- Canadians are inclined to seek harmony but are similar to Americans in their directness.
- People in the UK tend to avoid confrontation in an understated, mannered, and humorous style that can be either powerful or inefficient.
- Germans rely on logic but "tend to amass more evidence and labor their points more than either the British or the French."
- When meeting with the French, be prepared for a vigorous, logical debate.
- Italians "regard their languages as instruments of eloquence" and take a verbose, flexible approach to negotiations.
- Like Italians, Spaniards will "pull out every stop if need be to achieve greater expressiveness."
- Among the Nordic countries, Swedes often have the most wide-ranging discussions.
- Finns tend to value concision.
- Most Norwegians fall somewhere in between Swedes and Finns.
- Danes are sly negotiators - skilled at discretely getting their way.
- The Swiss tend to be straightforward, nonaggressive negotiators. They obtain concessions by expressing confidence in the quality and value of their goods and services.
- Hungarians value eloquence over logic and are unafraid to talk over each other.
- The Dutch are focused on facts and figures but "are also great talkers and rarely make final decisions without a long 'Dutch' debate, sometimes approaching the danger zone of over-analysis."
- The Chinese tend to be more direct than the Japanese and some other East Asians. However, meetings are principally for information gathering, with the real decisions made elsewhere.