High Context vs. Low Context Cultures
You travel to an entirely new country with a drastically different culture , dramatically different than you ever imagined. With a bundle full of ideas and goals in mind what do you do to put these plans in to action? Developing and if possible strong relationships with people living in the area. Then, how do you as a businessman, explorer, or budding entrepreneur create these meaningful relationships that will help you put your future goals into realistic ideas?
A step towards that goal is by realizing the type of culture you are involved with and how to best approach that region’s people. Understanding how that culture communicates and handles its business relations with new potential customers has a long way of helping you to understand the best way of creating long lasting relationships in any circumstance. To further understand this you must understand the differences between high context and low context cultures. What does this mean in terms of oh high context-low context cultures? Let the explaining begin…
Every culture has its own traits and characteristics that make its’ culture unique. This can range from traditions, history that make up the face of the country it is today, to the country’s people and they way they present themselves within the public eye. We can gather a great amount of knowledge about a person just by how they communicate. This can include the use of gestures, eye movement, or the words that come out in vocally expressive manners. This is how we can determine the culture behind the mysterious personality that performs before us. A flowing hand gesture or excessive use of gestural movement can give us a closer cultural clue as to where the person is from. The verbs and words spitting out the mouth gives us a better idea as to his nationality or culture. We can then determine based of these actions the culture they range from and generate a better idea of the cultural context behind the person.
A high context culture in a broad definition could be defined as a culture based around its cultural roots and communicates in less verbal, formal ways. Examples of countries that come from high context cultures include China, France, Italy, and Latin American countries. All these countries have rich long histories that have defined and made lasting impacts on its people. As a result the people of these countries emphasize in the way they communicate with their respective backgrounds.
Italians communicate with an assortment of bodily movements and loud verbal tones, making for very hearty conversations. The Chinese, a country based on respect and honor convey their messages through subtle , but powerful ways that get their message across. Through these two conversations we can define a few other characteristics of high context cultures. High context cultures go through indirect ways of communicating. That is a certain gesture or bodily movement can give the hint as to what they are trying to.
Cultural backgrounds can are also be a indirect way of communicating. People with similar backgrounds may already know the thought process and actions of others based on prior knowledge gained from their culture. In return information spoken during meetings may already be known by high context cultures and prohibiting further needs to ask for explanations that may usually be needed. High context cultures are also group oriented, tending to perform and communicate together when possible. Goals accomplished with the team instead of by solo actions are more valued. A few simple words from someone with a high context background may be all that’s said in a conversation, because those few words are loaded with power and meaning.
Low-context cultures have their own distinct ways of communicating. Cultures based under the low context category are public and open about communicating their information to the public. While as high-context cultures may sit back and let people communicate as long as they want, low context cultures find the need to be in main speaker on stage. High context basically explains itself in a sense that more information is centered around these types groups. Low context cultures as mentioned earlier many times have prior knowledge and experience on a situation, and not find the need to do anything.
Being more direct, high context cultures take over the stage and share everything they believe they need to, for as long as it may take. Hence, more information flies around in a low context speaking environment. The time it takes to share, could range from an extra few lines to a hour long speech. Time is valued much differently in regard to high context cultures. In developing a business relation a low context culture such as the US, will want to get straight to the point, in making a decision right away.
A high-context culture such as Japan would feel disrespected in a situation such as this. A culture like Japan and many other Asian nations values strong relations. In order to reach these points, high context cultures do not believe in conducting the business negotiations right off the bat, but to perhaps take the new friends out to eat or see a show. Here are where a meaningful relationships are believed to be created. High context cultures believe in testing out and becoming friendly with potential partners first, business comes second. If there is a sense of a strong relationship between the two sides then it will follow through with their business connections and future negotiations.
We should always understand that people communicate and receive information in many, many ways. There is not one right way to that works in every situation. Therefore, being able to adapt to different situations, such as dealing with a variety of cultures and understanding how to communicate effectively in respect to their traditional ways is important. Developing strong bonds with both low and high context cultures is vital in every way if you are to develop everlasting foreign relations. How well you approach the situation and represent your party will tell a lot in how strong a relationship you are looking to create in a foreign land.