Good communication

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Suggest some of the particular cautions that an individual from a high context culture should bear in mind when dealing with someone from a low context culture. Do the same for a low to high context culture situation.

INTRODUCTION

Good communication unites, rather than divides. In order to communicate successfully you have to consider the cultural differences and the predominating communication process in individualistic and collectivistic cultures. The general terms "high context" and "low context" (popularized by Edward Hall) are used to describe broad-brush cultural differences between societies. Communication, therefore, can be viewed as ‘a follow able prescription that indicates what behavior (interaction) is obligated, preferred or prohibited in certain context' (Shimanoff, 1980:57). Thus, culture functions as a frame of reference or a global context in which all that occurs is understood.

“High context refers to societies or groups where people have close connections over a long period of time. Many aspects of cultural behavior are not made explicit because most members know what to do and what to think from years of interaction with each other. Your family is probably an example of a high context environment.

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For Hall (1976), at one end of the continuum is a “low-context system” where low levels of programmed information are used to provide context; therefore, a large amount of explicit information must be present to specify meaning. Low context refers to societies where people tend to have many connections but of shorter duration or for some specific reason. At the other end of the continuum is a “high-context system” where a high amount of programmed information is used to provide context; therefore, more time is required to programme and to abstract meaning from the given set of information. High context refers to societies or groups where people have close connections over a long period of time.

High-Context Communication

Source: http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html

* “Less orally unambiguous communication, less written/formal information

* When and what communicated more internalized understanding

* Multiple cross-cutting ties and intersections with others

* Long term relationships

* Strong boundaries- who is accepted as belonging vs. who is considered an "outsider"

* Knowledge is situational, relational.

* Decisions and activities focus around personal face-to-face relationships, often around a central person who has authority.”

Examples:

Small religious congregations, a party with friends, family gatherings, expensive gourmet restaurants and neighborhood restaurants with a regular clientele, undergraduate on-campus friendships, regular pick-up games, hosting a friend in your home overnight.Source: http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html

Low Context Communication

Source: http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html

* “law oriented, people play by outside rules

* More information is codified, public, outside, and reachable.

* Sequencing, separation of time, of space, of activities, of relationships

* More interpersonal connections of shorter duration

* Knowledge is more often transferable

* Task-centered.

* Decisions and activities focus around what needs to be done, division of responsibilities.”

Examples:

Large US airports, a chain supermarket, a cafeteria, a convenience store, sports where rules are clearly laid out, a motel. Source: http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html

There is no better arena for observing a culture in action than business. Communication is fundamental in business, because business is a collaborative activity. Goods and services are created and exchanged through the close coordination of many persons, sometimes within a single village, and sometimes across global distances. Coordination of this kind requires intense communication. Complex product specifications and production schedules must be mutually understood, and intricate deals between trading partners must be negotiated. Communication styles vary enormously around the world, and these contribute to a staggering variety of business styles.

Probably the single most useful concept for understanding cultural differences in business communication is Edward T. Hall's (1976) distinction of low-context and high-context cultures. It explains much about how negotiation proceeds, how agreements are specified, and how workers are managed. Yet this distinction, insightful as it is, is derivative. It is best understood as reflecting a more fundamental distinction between rule-based and relationship-based cultures, which is in turn grounded in different conceptions of human nature. The discussion here begins by showing how business practices reflect low-context and high-context characteristics, but it subsequently moves to the deeper levels to explore how communication styles are integrally related to other characteristics of the culture.

Low- and High-Context Orientations

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Anthropologist Edward Hall (1976) developed a theoretical model of cultural variability based on information processing, time orientation and the interaction patterns used by particular cultures. Context is defined by Hall (1989:6) as the ‘information that surrounds an event'. He argues that the context that surrounds information is critical to meaning; therefore, relevant information must exist in any interaction to specify meaning. He observed that different cultures use a range of information processing systems to provide context.

For Hall (1976), at one end of the continuum is a “low-context system” where low levels of programmed information are used to provide context; therefore, a large amount of explicit information must be present to specify meaning. At the other end of the continuum is a “high-context system” where a high amount of programmed information is used to provide context; therefore, more time is required to program and to abstract meaning from the given set of information.

High context versus low context

When individuals from high context and low context worked together there is often problem occurs in exchange of information. This problem is usually differences in quantity, quality and direction.

As a rule, cultures with western European roots rely more heavily on low-context communication. These include Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, as well as much of Europe. The rest of the world tends toward high-context communication. Naturally, high-context communication can occur in a low-context culture, as the German biergarten illustrates. Communication within a family or close knit group is high context in almost any part of the world. Conversely, low-context communication is becoming more common in high-context cultures, due to Western influences and a desire to accommodate travelers and expatriates.

Based on which speakers rely on the factors other then unambiguous speech to convey their messages. The choice of high-context and low-context as labels has led to untoward misunderstandings, since there is an indirect ranking in the adjectives. In fact, neither is better or worse than the other. They are simply different. Generally, low-context communicators interacting with high-context communicators should bear in mind that

* nonverbal messages is very as important as what is said;

* appropriate acknowledgement require, communication may be nonverbal

* balance approach is important and when talk face-to-face and should desire to communicate frankly

* good relations make a positive effectiveness with time

* some time non-direct routes and positive thinking is very important for problem solving when there is deadlock situation

High-context communicators interacting with low-context communicators should be mindful that

* on the spot and face value matters a lot instead representative layers of meaning

* focus is required on task to maintain effectiveness and usefulness

* roles and functions may be decoupled from status and identity;

* clarification and share goals is important but some time avoid direct questions and observations

* to get others attention need to be direct, indirect cues may be not enough

As communicators' factor awareness of high-context and low-context communication into their relations, conflict may be lessened and even prevented.

Conclusion

Nobel peace Laureate Jimmy Carter understand the importance of this in the Camp David peace negotiations He reports Prime minister Begin was about to leave negotiations so Carter met Begin and presented him pictures of three heads of state describing the name of each Begin's grandchildren, Begin after looking at the pictures realize the importance of peace negotiations to the grandchildren's futures. Here direct, low context would not work and low context already tried, so only a high context reference to legacy, future generations, and the relations that Begin cared about. The example shows the importance of individualism and low/high context. When dealing with different people from high- and low-context cultures you always have to be aware of your interlocutor's cultural origin. This helps to avoid misunderstandings and creates a better basis for further discussions.

References

Hooker John, 2008 Cultural Differences in Business Communication [online] Available from web.tepper.cmu.edu/jnh/businessCommunication.pdf

H Heine Role of Culture in Cross-Border Negotiations [online] Available from 62.103.39.56:8080/ketakemak.../TheroleofCultureinNegotiations_F14686.pdf

Nada Korac-Kakabadse, Alexander Kouzmin, Andrew Korac-Kakabadse and Lawson Nov 2001, Low- and High-Context Communication Patterns: Towards Mapping Cross-Cultural Encounters [online] Available from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/10.1108/13527600110797218

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