Is the context high or low?

The terms high and low context cultures, according to an article from Communicaid, refer to how people communicate in different cultures.  A high-context culture (such as cultures in Africa, the Middle-East, China, and India) relies more on long-term relationships, cultural associations, and mutual experiences. In a high-context culture, being part of a family or tribe can communicate a lot more than just words can. Word choice is more important in high-context cultures, since a few words can have a deeper cultural and historical meaning. Meanwhile, low-context cultures the verbalization of ideas is much more important.

When interacting with people from other cultures, it is very important to know whether they come from high- or low-context cultures, because you will be able to adapt your communication style and make better friendships. While there are entire books and studies dedicated to this subject, a brief introduction can be beneficial!

Here is a list comparing and contrasting the differences between the two:

High Context Low Context
Indirect and implicit messages Direct, simple and clear messages
Polychronic Monochronic
High use of non-verbal communication Low use of non-verbal communication
Low reliance on written communication High reliance on written communication
Use intuition and feelings to make decisions Rely on facts and evidence for decisions
Long-term relationships Short-term relationships
Relationships are more important than schedules Schedules are more important than relationships
Strong distinction between in-group and out-group Flexible and open

This information will only become more important as we seek to understand people from all different kinds of cultures. Here in the United States, we are considered a low-context culture. However, many of the cultures found in Cache Valley (Filipino, Indian, Mexican, Japanese) are high-context, so it is important to understand their style of communication.

At first it may seem very difficult to try and develop relationships with people from high-context cultures, since they are a little cliquish, but after time, experience, and a little know-how, it becomes very possible! What are some of your experiences with people from high-context cultures?


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