Many years ago I was working with a group of pastors and church planters from a culture different than the one I was accustomed. The first time we met, the majority of the participants showed-up several minutes late. Each had a legitimate reason. I thought that was unfortunate, but moved on. However, as time passed I observed a pattern emerging – the leaders were showing up later and later. Eventually I realized I was not doing my part to communicate expectations in a way that registered that our meeting needed to be a priority.
This created a sense of urgency with the various participants for a few months, altering their behavior; but over time, they defaulted back to their original behavior. I tried everything I knew to keep the meetings as punctual as promised but struggled with this same issue the entire year. What I failed to understand was how different cultures view time. More importantly, I had not learned how to adapt and navigate the cultural map when our values clashed.
I’m reading a book entitled The Culture Map by Erin Meyers. In it she describes the difference between the way people communicate in Low and High Context cultures. I’m discovering the nuances that differentiate cultures and the implications for coaching across cultures.
Low Context: Good communication is precise, simple, and clear. Messages are expressed and understood at face value. Repetition is appreciated if it helps clarify the communication.
High-Context: Good communication is sophisticated, nuanced, and layered. Messages are both spoken and read between the lines. Messages are often implied but not plainly expressed. (p.39)
Communication is one of eight areas the author addresses to help navigate cultural gaps. Here is an article to illustrate the challenge when working across cultures – see Cultural Coaching. Whether you are coaching in the same culture or across cultures, is it helpful to assess your cultural profile using the Self Assessment Questionnaire. There is also an Interactive Cultural Map Exhibit to identify and compare the contexts in which you coach.
The Culture Map is an informative resource to assist in your coaching relationships as well as training leaders ministering across cultures.