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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Hall’s High Context and Low Context (Part2)

CSMS Magazine Staff Writers

In low-context cultures (German, Swiss, Scandinavian, and North American), the population is less homogeneous and therefore tends to compartmentalize interpersonal contacts. This lack of a large pool of common experiences means that “each time they interact with others they need detailed background information and very little is embedded in the context or the participants. This characteristic manifests itself in a host of ways. For example, the Asian mode of communication (high context) is often vague, indirect, and implicit, whereas Western communication (low context) tends to be direct and explicit. In addition, as Lynch notes, “Low-context communicators talk more, rapidly, and often raise their voices. Althen offers an excellent summary of Americans’ fascination with language in the following paragraph:

Americans depend more on spoken words than in nonverbal behavior to convey messages. They think it is important to able to “speak up” and “say what is on their mind.” They admire a person who has a moderately large vocabulary and who can express herself clearly and shrewdly.

Differences in perceived credibility are yet another aspect of communication associated with these two orientations. In high-context cultures, people who rely primarily on verbal message for information are perceived as less credible. They believe that silence often sends a better message than words, and anyone who needs worth does not have the information. As the Indonesian proverb states, “Empty cans clatter the loudest.”

Differences in this communication dimension can even alter how conflict is perceived and responded to. As Ting-Toomey has observed, the communication differences between high-context and low-context cultures are also apparent in the manner in which each approaches conflict. For example, because high-context cultures tend to less open, they hold that conflict is damaging to most communication encounters. For them, Ting-Toomey says, “Conflict should be dealt with discreetly and subtly.”

Harris and Moran summarize the low-context dimension as it applies to the business setting in the following manner:

Unless global leaders are aware of the subtle differences, communication misunderstanding between low– and high-context communication by not stating things directly, while Americans usually do the opposite—“spell it out.” The former is looking for meaning and understanding in what is not said—in nonverbal communication or body language, in the silence and pauses, in relationships and empathy. The latter places emphasis on sending and receiving accurate message directly, usually by being articulate with words.

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