· Relies on implicit communication.
People from high-context cultures have been taught from early childhood to look for implied meaning. They believe that what is implied takes precedence over what is said; they will recognize discrepancies between actual words and intended meaning. Example (Let us consider the following example):
Although the phrase "to rubber stamp" means agreement in U.S. business, the expression would not translate correctly into Japanese. A Japanese report may indeed bear a stamp, but the placement and orientation of the stamp tells the receiver whether the report is acceptable as is, or whether it needs to be reworked and resubmitted. For a report to be approved, the rubber-stamped symbol must be perfectly aligned and not tilt to the right or left. Such subtle messages are readily noticed by those businesspeople who have been brought up in the high context Japanese culture.
· Emphasizes nonverbal communication. ☺ (What is nonverbal communication? This question may let the trainees remember what kinds of nonverbal communication they know and recite them.)
Although nonverbal communication (body language, facial expressions, gestures and touching, conversational distance, eye contact, etc.) conveys meaning in every culture, people from high-context cultures rely more heavily on nonverbal communication than people from low-context cultures. The nonverbal communication provides the "context" for the conversation and, therefore, must be carefully observed for effective communication to take place.
· Subordinates tasks to relationships.
In high-context cultures, children are imbued with reverence for family relationships and friendship, as illustrated by the Ukrainian proverb, 'Tell me who your friend is, and I'll tell you who you are."A friendship is a deep commitment developed over many years. Businesspeople brought up in high-context cultures carry over the importance of relationships to their transactions on the job. They may believe that a relative with less experience should be trusted over a stranger with more experience in a given job. They may award business contracts to those with whom they have forged relationships over many years rather than to the company that makes the best presentation or offers the best deal on paper.
· Emphasizes collective initiative and decision making .
A high-context culture values the collective as the important unit of society as exemplified by the Chinese proverb, "A single bamboo pole does not make a raft."Businesspeople from high-context cultures are taught to arrive at decisions that benefit the group. Advancing one's own agenda should never be the stimulus for action; rather, the group or team should initiate, develop, and carry out projects for the betterment of the company and of society. Self-aggrandizement is not only frowned on, it is also not allowed, and an individual risks losing his or her place in the group by "going it alone."
· Views employer/employee relationship as humanistic . ☺ (How do you understand this aspect of HC culture? This is the opportunity for the trainees to express their points of view.)
As you might suspect, the social framework of a society helps determine the relationship between employer and employee, so high-context cultures tend to view the employer/employee relationship in a humanistic rather than mechanistic way. Because these relationships are so important, high-context cultures see employees as "family" members that work for the good of the group and remain loyal to the company for many years. Job performances may vary widely without the threat of imminent dismissal. In addition, the employer will feel loyal to the employees and make decisions based on their welfare. Because trust is an important element in hiring decisions, family members would be preferred over strangers.
· Relies on intuition or trust rather than facts and statistics.
People from high-context cultures rely on trust or intuition to guide them in decision making. This trust must be established by forming a relationship with the potential business partner and will only be peripherally influenced by the reams of data that someone from a low-context culture might offer.
Intuition or "gut feeling" is a large part of doing business in high-context cultures. Decisions won't be dictated by a plethora of written and spoken information but will be based on a sense of the context of the message. Example.
☺(Here is an example of such feature. But: the example may be considered complicated to understand and may be omitted.)
Translator Masato Abe tried to explain the importance of "reading between the lines" to his international colleagues. "In English, items obvious from the situation or context are commonly referred to using a pronoun. In Japanese, pronouns are less often used. Rather, known items are simply deleted from the sentence, resulting in sentences with no subject, transitive verbs with no direct object, indeed, sentences consisting of verbs alone." In such a sentence, the speaker or writer relies on the receiver's intuition and their relationship to understand the context of the message.
· Prefers indirect style in writing and speaking. ☺ (Mini-discussion: Have you ever met with indirect style in writing or speaking? Could you share your point of view about this?)
Given the emphasis on trust in high-context cultures, you may find that business writing and speaking need more space and time to establish rapport. For example, businesspeople from high-context cultures may begin a letter or email entirely indirectly. Only in the second paragraph will they bring up the main point of the business communication. Similarly, in business presentations, speakers will approach the subject indirectly, opening with attention to greetings and acknowledgments. In some, but not all, high-context cultures, it is considered rude to directly state the accomplishments, wealth, or expertise of the company. Instead, these attributes would be carefully intimated, and the focus would remain on mutual benefits. The relative worthiness of the company will be understated. For example, a company representing 28% of the Chinese computer market began their presentation by saying, "We have some small knowledge of this market."
· Favors indirect style in writing and speaking .
People from high-context cultures will discuss issues from a holistic viewpoint with topics arising in random rather than linear order. Example.
☺ (In order to make the example clear we can demonstrate it on the blackboard.)
A Puerto Rican manager, Juan Marin, was asked to give a brown-bag luncheon (неофіційна зустріч) talk at the mortgage company where he worked in Houston. The topic for the series of discussions was cross-cultural communication. As he spoke, Juan drew on the white board to illustrate the difference in the preferred reasoning style of his American co-workers. "You talk from point A to point B." Pedro drew a straight line connecting the two letters.
"In my culture, it is different. We do it like this." At this point, Juan drew circles that overlapped eventually forming the pattern of a flower. His artwork drew lots of laughs and comments and was a revelation for those from low-context cultures who sometimes were impatient with Juan's tendency to talk "around" a subject. Most participants did not realize that preference for circular or indirect reasoning is culturally influenced.
· Adheres to the spirit of the law .
Businesspeople who grow up in high-context cultures generally rely less on written contracts than their counterparts in low-context cultures. People in high-context cultures assume that it's impossible to anticipate every situation that may arise, and, therefore, would feel that agreements need to be revisited periodically in light of the new circumstances. Their attitude is not that laws were meant to be broken, but rather that laws should make sense given the surrounding events and changing circumstance (i.e., the "context" of the situation). Example.
After "beating my head against the wall," a frustrated American vendor finally realized that she could save time and money by relying less on legal contracts when dealing with a family-owned agricultural supplier in Venezuela. "I now understand that our agreements are fluid, and I've adjusted to that reality." According to the American vendor, "I had to get to know them and vice-versa. Now, we can do business on a handshake and a letter of agreement. It's actually much easier and less expensive than hiring a lawyer to draw up the papers."
High Context Communication is also common in many Western countries
“The table sheds light on just how difficult it can be for a foreigner to understand what the British really mean when they’re speaking – especially for those take every word at face value. Phrases that prove the trickiest to decipher include ‘you must come for dinner’, which foreigners tend to take as a direct invitation, but is actually said out of politeness by many Britons and often does not result in an invite. The table also reveals that when a person from Britain begins a sentence “with the greatest respect …’, they actually mean ‘I think you are an idiot’.” (Alice Philipson in The Telegraph 02 Sep 2013)
☺ (The students have this table only with the 1st column filled and in groups in two or more they try to guess the meaning of the 2nd and 3rd columns. After that all students and the teacher check out the results. It is OK if the students’ results will be absolutely different.)
|WHAT THE BRITISH SAY||WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN||WHAT FOREIGNERS UNDERSTAND|
|I hear what you say|
|With the greatest respect|
|That’s not bad|
|That is a very brave proposal|
|I would suggest|
|Oh, incidentally/ by the way|
|I was a bit disappointed that|
|I’ll bear it in mind|
|I’m sure it’s my fault|
|You must come for dinner|
|I almost agree|
|I only have a few minor comments|
|Could we consider some other options|
(retrieved 30.09.2013 at
Characteristics of low-context cultures. Explicit (literal) communication, emphasizing verbal communication, separating job tasks from relationships, individual initiative and decision making, relying on facts and statistics direct style in writing and speaking, etc.
Low context refers to societies where people tend to have many connections but of shorter duration or for some specific reason. In these societies, cultural behavior and beliefs may need to be spelled out explicitly so that those coming into the cultural environment know how to behave.
In short we can characterized LC culture as the culture with rule oriented, people play by external rules, more knowledge is codified, public, external, and accessible; sequencing, separation - of time, of space, of activities, of relationships, more interpersonal connections of shorter duration, knowledge is more often transferable, task-centered that means decisions and activities focus around what needs to be done, division of responsibilities. Decisions and activities focus around what needs to be done, division of responsibilities.
(received 10.05.2014 at http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html)
☺ (in the context of this picture it is easy to explain the links among people in LC cultures)
This picture demonstrates the relations people in LC cultures
Examples: large US airports, a chain supermarket, a cafeteria, a convenience store, sports where rules are clearly laid out, a motel.
A low context culture is one in which things are fully (though concisely) spelled out. Things are made explicit, and there is considerable dependence on what is actually said or written. A high context culture is one in which the communicators assume a great deal of commonality of knowledge and views, so that less is spelled out explicitly and much more is implicit or communicated in indirect ways. In a low context culture, more responsibility is placed on the listener to keep up their knowledge base and remain plugged into informal networks.
Low context cultures include Anglos, Germanics and Scandinavians. High context cultures include Japanese, Arabs and French.
In contrast, a person from a low-context culture usually:
Relies on explicit (literal) communication;
Emphasizes verbal communication over nonverbal communication; Separates job tasks from relationships;
Emphasizes individual initiative and decision making;
Views employer/employee relationship as mechanistic;
Relies on facts, statistics, and other details as supporting evidence;
Uses direct style in writing and speaking;