In order for you to feel a meeting was a great success, which of the following should happen?
A. In a good meeting, a decision is made.
B. In a good meeting, various viewpoints are discussed and debated.
C. In a good meeting, a formal stamp is put on a decision that has been made before the meeting.
The large majority of Americans responding to this question choose option A. The French, however, largely chose option B. And most Chinese and Japanese selected option C.
In many Asian cultures, the default purpose of a meeting is to approve a decision that has already been made in informal discussions. Therefore, the most appropriate time to express your disagreement is before the meeting to an individual rather than during the meeting in front of the group.
It’s relatively easy to make this cultural preference work for you. Before your next team meeting, try calling your Japanese colleague for a casual offline discussion. You are much more likely to hear a frank opinion, especially if you have already built a good relationship.
If you have a large percentage of East Asians on your global team, you may consider adopting the informal pre-meeting approach and encourage everyone to make one-on-one prep calls to hear opinions and reach an agreement. Then you can use your meetings to put a formal stamp on any consensus decision reached. Explain the process clearly so that everyone understands.
Here’s the cultural spectrum at the heart of these differences:
This excerpt adapted with permission from “The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business” (2014) by INSEAD professor Erin Meyer, from PublicAffairs.
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