One Reason Cross-Cultural Small Talk Is So Tricky – Harvard Business Review

A bit simplistic and stereotypical, but there is an element of truth to cross-cultural communications challenges:

A good way to prepare is to ask yourself whether the new culture is a “peach” or a “coconut”. This is a distinction drawn by culture experts Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner. In peach cultures like the USA or Brazil people tend to be friendly (“soft”) with new acquaintances. They smile frequently at strangers, move quickly to first-name usage, share information about themselves, and ask personal questions of those they hardly know. But after a little friendly interaction with a peach, you may suddenly get to the hard shell of the pit where the peach protects his real self and the relationship suddenly stops.

In coconut cultures such Russia and Germany, people are initially more closed off from those they don’t have friendships with. They rarely smile at strangers, ask casual acquaintances personal questions, or offer personal information to those they don’t know intimately. But over time, as coconuts get to know you, they become gradually warmer and friendlier. And while relationships are built up slowly, they also tend to last longer….

So what do you do if, like me, you’re a peach fallen amongst coconuts? Authenticity matters; if you try to be someone you’re not, it never works. So go ahead and smile all you want and share as much information about your family as you like. Just don’t ask personal questions of your counterparts until they bring up the subject themselves.  And for my coconut readers, if your peach counterpart asks how you are doing, shows you photos of their family or even invites you over for a barbecue, don’t take it as an overture to deep friendship or a cloak for some hidden agenda, but as an expression of different cultural norms that you need to adjust to.

One Reason Cross-Cultural Small Talk Is So Tricky – Erin Meyer – Harvard Business Review.

A Tool That Maps Out Cultural Differences – Harvard Business Review



Interesting approach to understanding cross-cultural differences from a management perspective. Canada does not figure but the graphs are interesting. Risk of stereotyping, of course, but it may help people reflect on their styles and the impact on others:

Erin Meyer, an American (from Minnesota) in Paris who coaches executives in managing cross-cultural career moves and teaches at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, has a theory about these malentendus. The problem, she argues, is that most people tend to emphasize just one or two, at most three, dimensions of cultural difference when it comes to parsing and predicting foreigners’ behavior.

But cultures differ along many more than three dimensions, so the more dimensions you consider, the less likely you are to trip up on a cultural paradox — you’ll be able to tell that incoming French manager to tone down critiques of his American subordinates before he upsets them.

The trouble, of course, is that it’s cognitively difficult for us to keep more than three dimensions of comparison in our head at once. What’s more, we tend to lose sight of the fact that relative, not absolute differences, are what matters. Most cultures would find the Brazilians to be very relaxed about punctuality, for instance, but Brazilians themselves tend to struggle to adapt to Indians’ even more casual notions of time.

A Tool That Maps Out Cultural Differences – David Champion – Harvard Business Review.