Low to high context culture

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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.”

Culture is the human made part in the human environment and is everything that people have think and do as members of a society. It is defined as ‘inherited moral habit', consisting ideas and values (Ghauri & Cateora, 2005). Deutsch, M and Coleman, P (2000) mentioned that “Culture” refers to shared sets of meanings, norms, expectations, perceptions, roles, categories, interpretations, and modes of communication. Culture shapes one's view of reality, and it is shared culture that allows people to assume that they share the same reality. Interactions between people of different cultures can be fraught with difficulty and misunderstanding, particularly when the participants fail to recognize that they effectively occupy different realities. In order to relate to each other effectively, culturally diverse actors must develop a shared micro culture. Cultures also differ in their style of communications.

The concept of high context culture and low context culture was proposed by Edward T. Hall and they are a way of understanding different types of cultural orientation. In Low context culture that message are explicit; words carry mainly of the information in communication, and high context culture that the less information is contained in the verbal part of a message, (Jeannet & Hennessey, 2004). Low context culture includes countries like United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland etc where as high context cultures are that of China, Japan, France, and India etc. It is important to recognise that people from different culture are different in variety of ways including different way of looking at things, dressing and expressing personality/goodness. So everyone must take caution while meeting people from different cultures. The most common things to bear in mind are communication style, attitude towards conflict, decision making style and approaches to knowing.

Deutsch, M and Coleman, P (2000) explained that high-context cultures rely on the context to convey most of the information, with relatively little information conveyed by the actual message. Low-context cultures convey most of the information within the message, with very little significance given to the context. Low-context listeners often miss the full content of high-context communication, while high-context listeners may read in more content than a low-context speaker intended. Generally in high context cultures the business dealings are carried out with less paper work than that of low context cultures. In this culture business loans are most likely to be based on who you are than being recognised with the financial documents. In China the concept of “Guanxi” which means relationships or connections in which one can prevail upon another to perform a favour or service. Guanxi is used to facilitate business activities, generate new/old clients for a company and also for networking in China (Lie, 2007). Basically the Chinese business world runs on the platform of trust and relationships which contradicts to the low context western cultures. Chin-Ning Chu a Chinese-American business consultant quotes“In China, it does not matter how many laws and how much morality is on your side, without Guanxi, you have nothing”.

International Business Communication (1992) quotes DeMente (1988) about Korean business attitudes: “In Korea, as in many other Asian countries, business is a personal affair. The product, the profit, and everything else take a backseat to personal relations” (Jane, 1998). In Japan and Saudi Arabia a great deal of importance is given on a person's worth or values and position or place in a society. Japanese business world is highly organized and involves human resource involved and there is mutual dependence between employers and employees compared to America where it is dependent on machinery for most of the work and not much mutuality between the people (Shimizu, 1995). In high context culture more information is conveyed by body language and people are expected to understand without much explanation. In some cultures, looking people in the eye is assumed to indicate honesty and straight forwardness; in others it is seen as challenging and rude. In USA, the cheapest most effective way to connect with people is to look them into the eye. Most people in Arab culture share a great deal of eye contact and may regard too little as disrespectful. In English culture, a certain amount of eye contact is required, but too much makes many people uncomfortable. In South Asian and many other cultures direct eye contact is generally regarded as aggressive and rude.

Cultures may tend to differ in various aspects like time, space and historical significance. Many high context cultures like India and Latin America time is plentiful so they would not mind in making people to wait all day for doing a work or even tell them to come back the next day. The punctuality is not much a necessity when starting any meeting or making any appointments. In high context culture they consider time commitments objectives to be met if possible, are more concerned with relationships, especially family and friends (Hall, 1989). Space is very important in cultures while in North America they always prefer large space as they are surrounded by it in their homes and countryside but in Europeans tend to stand close to each other when talking as that are accustomed to smaller spaces (LeBaron, 2003).

When meeting any person from low context culture it is important to greet with a firm hand shake and speak by keeping an eye contact. The business world in the Western countries is quite different from those of the East. The process of trust, relationship is left at home or outside the office and when it comes to business it is strict paper work and signatures that play a role (Ferraro, 2005). In United States, Germany or Switzerland, deals are made with less information about the background, character, and values of the participants. All business dealings are documented and when a unanimous agreement is reached it is concluded by signing the deal. Anyone breaking a deal or not acting in accordance to an agreement it is considered an offense (Ferraro, 2005). Due to this there are several number law suits in these countries compared to their Eastern counterparts. Most low context cultures tend to be monochromatic they tend to do one job at a time, concentrate on the job at hand and take time commitments seriously and not disturb others (Hall, 1990). In Germany if you arrive even a few minutes late no one will be impressed with your presentations, so it is better to phone and let them know where you are as Germans want to know where their people are at all times. Western culture is mostly rule based compared to relation based. Negotiations in the West are considered as a poker game in which players can lose without hard feelings as long as everyone plays by rules. In relationship based business these negotiations can be problematic (Hooker, 2008). The business carried out in low context cultures is transparent and everyone is frank about his ideas and views and is expressed openly.

The difference between the high and low context culture is viewed in a business learning report where a survey of what business leaders want to learn in UK and India and there is much contrast between both. The attributes such as leadership, self improvement, culture intelligence were analyzed and surveyed.

Variations among same cultures

There are variations among the rule based cultures like those of England, North America and Germany. Business communications differ between America and Germany and their style of presentation can also vary. The American's slides can be flashy with all catchy phrases which the Germans find childish and they would prefer graphs and chart to reassure them that proper market research has been done. There are several differences in European cultures they can be ruled as logic based culture. Most French and Italian business meetings are much more emotional and animated than the British (Hooker, 2008).

Cultures tend to separate an individual or a group from one another and it is a source of history that each one is proud to carry on to the future generations. Intercultural communication is important for business, networking and friendship so when we experience a cultural shock (something different from our experience) we must understand that “what they are doing makes sense to them” and we have to respect that.


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