High And Low Context Communication Styles

 Learner  随笔

High and low context communication styles

25th May 2010 by Evan Frendo

Low context(语境,情境) cultures prefer to communicate explicitly (明晰地) through words – it is important to say what you think. Problems can be solved in isolation, and facts are central. “Separate the people from the problem” is an example of a low context perspective(视角) of successful negotiation. High context cultures prefer to communicate by leaving certain things unsaid. The priority is to build relationships and to know what is going on. Empathy is key. Explicit explanations and details are unnecessary, and even insulting. People and problems are inextricably(千丝万缕) connected.

It is often argued that Western cultures like the USA and Germany are low context, whereas Asian cultures like Japan and China tend to be more high context, but it is important to note that Hall’s distinction does not only have to do with national cultures – co-workers who work with each other on a day-to-day basis might also be likely to communicate with each other in a high context way even if they come from a low context culture.

Here’s the thing. When these two communication styles come in contact with each other it is easy for both sides to get frustrated. High context cultures might see low context as insensitive, aggressive, rude, tactless (缺乏机智), full of irrelevant information and overly preoccupied with the problem and not with the overall picture. Low context might see high context as dishonest, elusive(难以捉摸), lacking real opinions, vague, ambiguous, dilatory (拖延), repetitive, and unable to focus on a problem. What we need to do as business teachers is to provide activities which help our students to understand the issues, and strategies to deal with them. Here are some ideas for you to adapt to your own context.

……

Ask students to categorise the following phrases:

1 It is cold today. / Could you shut the window please?
2 Absolutely right! / That is possible.
3 I think before I speak. / I always say what I think.
4 I earn 6000 Euros a week. / I earn enough to keep my family happy.
5 We will find a way. / It is all in the contract.

……

Comment 1

Gill Woodman of the LMU once taught a teacher training course there and quoted some linguist’s study with this comparison of low context German and high context English:

English busdriver to passengers on a full bus: “Go on, move to the back.”

German busdriver to passengers on a full bus (in German, of course): “Go on, move to the back. There are people outside trying to get in.”

Comment 2

I’ll never forget a student from Brazil (high context) describing what it was like to take his MBA in the US (low context). He felt like his tutors were treating him like an idiot and was surprised to find nobody else seemed offended (被触犯). I’ve had similar experiences in the US, but at the same time, there have been lots of occasions when I’ve really appreciated it because I did need to be told.

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