Edward Hall’s theory of high- and low-context culture helps us better understand the powerful effect culture has on communication. A key factor in his theory is context. This relates to the framework, background, and surrounding circumstances in which communication or an event takes place. High-context cultures (including much of the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and South America) are relational, collectivist, intuitive, and contemplative. This means that people in these cultures emphasize interpersonal relationships. Developing trust is an important first step to any business transaction.
According to Hall, these cultures are collectivist, preferring group harmony and consensus to individual achievement. And people in these cultures are less governed by reason than by intuition or feelings. Words are not so important as context, which might include the speaker’s tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, posture—and even the person’s family history and status.
A Japanese manager explained his culture’s communication style to an American: “We are a homogeneous people and don’t have to speak as much as you do here. When we say one word, we understand ten, but here you have to say ten to understand one.” High-context communication tends to be more indirect and more formal. Flowery language, humility, and elaborate apologies are typical.
Low-context cultures (including North America and much of Western Europe) are logical, linear, individualistic, and action-oriented. People from low-context cultures value logic, facts, and directness. Solving a problem means lining up the facts and evaluating one after another. Decisions are based on fact rather than intuition. Discussions end with actions. And communicators are expected to be straightforward, concise, and efficient in telling what action is expected.
To be absolutely clear, they strive to use precise words and intend them to be taken literally. Explicit contracts conclude negotiations. This is very different from communicators in high-context cultures who depend less on language precision and legal documents. High-context business people may even distrust contracts and be offended by the lack of trust they suggest. So, high-context:
Less verbally explicit communication, less written/formal information. More internalized understandings of what is communicated 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. Low context:
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. Decisions and activities focus around what needs to be done, division of responsibilities.
Large US airports, a chain supermarket, a cafeteria, a convenience store, sports where rules are clearly laid out, a motel. While these terms are sometimes useful in describing some aspects of a culture, one can never say a culture is “high” or “low” because societies all contain both modes. “High” and “low” are therefore less relevant as a description of a whole people, and more useful to describe and understand particular situations and environments. Ways that High and Low Context Differ
1. The Structure of Relationships
Dense, intersecting networks and longterm relationships, strong boundaries, relationship more important than task Low:
Loose, wide networks, shorter term, compartmentalized relationships, task more important than relationship 1. Main Type of Cultural Knowledge
More knowledge is below the waterline–implicit, patterns that are not fully conscious, hard to explain even if you are a member of that culture Low:
More knowledge is above the waterline–explicit, consciously organized
Task 2. HOFSTEDE´s Culture Models.
The Iceberg Model Of Culture The Onion Model
The iceberg analogy is commonly used to represent the concept of culture. The iceberg model graphically demonstrates how culture is made up of a visible structure (above the water) and an invisible structure (below the water). Just as the visible part of the iceberg is only a small fraction of what lies beneath the water, so too are the visible cultural characteristics only one part of a much larger whole.
Visible cultural characteristics include behaviors and practices: clothing, dance, language, physical features, food, music, architecture, gestures, greetings, devotional practices and more. Invisible cultural factors include perceptions, attitudes, values and beliefs: spiritual beliefs, worldviews, rules of relationships, approach to the family, motivations, tolerance for change, attitudes to rules, communication styles, modes of thinking, comfort with risk, the difference between public and private, gender differences and more.
The visible elements of a culture are driven and shaped by the invisible elements of the culture. Cultural competence requires you to be consciously aware of the ways in which the invisible cultural elements can influence your relationship with others and the workplace environment. If we want to understand people of other cultures and their behaviors, it is important to understand their values, attitudes, perceptions and beliefs. In order to understand others’ values, it is important to first situate ourselves by identifying our own visible and invisible cultural factors.
The Cultural Onion is a CORE and 3 layers.
CORE: The core stands for the values of a certain culture, which are slow to change and are heavily influenced by the history of that country or culture. Even if something seems to be outdated, it still can subconsciously play a role in a modern society. “This is the area Intercultural Training focuses on and is the key to understand how it influences human interactions in business” RITUALS AND TRADITIONS: The first layer around the core is described as rituals.
A ritual can be for example, personal hygiene (most Asians shower in the evening, Europeans in the morning). German people like to shake hands often, the Spanish like to greet people with “buenos días / buenas tardes” while the British use “please” and “sorry” all the time. HEROES: The second layer around the core are the “heroes“. A hero can be a fictious person, national heroes, photo-models or scientists – all people, who have been a role-model in that society. SYMBOLS: The third layer is about the symbols. Nowadays most symbols appear as brands like BMW, Apple or Louis Vuitton, and change with the trends.
The tree model is another way of to explain culture. It provides the historical roots of culture – unwritten expectations, values and norms. These factors can lead to type of rites, stories, rules, language and behaviors, control system and symbols. In this model, based on the visual image of a tree, the leaves provide a visible indicator of an organization’s or community’s culture. The trunk and branches indicate the unwritten expectations, values and norms. The roots are core beliefs and commonly held assumptions.