2018.05.15 Disagreeing

The seventh concept in Erin Meyer's Culture Map is Disagreeing.

Do you equalize disagreeing with conflict?

Do you already cringe when thinking about conflict?

Some people see business conflicts as something usually rather trivial. This is not about you or me as much as it is about "the problem".

Other people try at almost any cost to prevent conflicts from rising in the first place.

HBR: "Everyone knows that a little confrontation is healthy, right? The recent U.S. business literature certainly confirms that viewpoint, but different cultures have varying ideas about how productive it is. People in Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand view the public airing of disagreement very dimly, whereas those in Germany, France, and the Netherlands are quite comfortable with it. This scale measures how you view confrontation—whether you feel it is likely to improve group dynamics or to harm relationships within a team."

The seventh concept in the Culture Map illustration shows both Denmark and USA at the end of the scale where disagreeing is not a big catastrophe. As much as "U.S. business literature" supposedly finds "a little confrontation healthy", USA is squarely in the middle and Denmark a good bit more comfortable with disagreeing.

American assumptions as stated in the HBR quote above are that Americans are "comfortable" - because another assumption about what uncomfortable looks like is based on many years of interaction with Asian counterparts. Doing business with the even more confrontational Germans, Dutch, French and Danes can be an unpleasant awakening.

One type of "disagreeing" is asking questions.

As noted under Persuasion, Americans default towards "application first" when presenting an issue. Danes like to know which sources "facts" come from and question if the underlying theory or data are applicable to the situation. To an American, this may come across as disagreeing. If the underlying facts or theories are not at the fingertips, this may even be seen as questioning the other party's expertise, a more personal attack.

Because of the different distaste for disagreeing, it can be productive to institute a structured method like Six Hats in multicultural teams. This gives room for looking at an issue from different perspectives without becoming disagreeable.

Perhaps influenced by the two-party political system and top-down decision making, America has more of a "winner takes all" culture compared to Denmark's plutocratic "compromise is the way of the day". Hence, as it can be difficult to "agree to disagree", politics and religion are subjects typically not discussed neither at the office nor in social gatherings in the U.S.