High-Low Context

High-Low Context

High and Low Context http://www. culture-at-work. com/highlow. html Culture at Work Communicating Across Cultures Our Services Negotiation & Con? ict Culture at Work Japan Communication Home High and Low Context De? nitions of High and Low Context or Low Context Situation Main differences Entering a High Other pages in this series: » What is “Culture”? » “Culture” Metaphors » 3 more metaphors » Create metaphors » Iceberg » High and Low Context » Culture “embodied” The general terms “high context” and “low context” (popularized by Edward Hall) are used to describe broad-brush cultural differences between societies.

High context refers to societies or groups where people have close connections over a long period of time. Many aspects of cultural behavior are not made explicit because most members know what to do and what to think from years of interaction with each other. Your family is probably an example of a high context environment. Low context refers to societies where people tend to have many connections but of shorter duration or for some speci? c 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.

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. 1 of 4 5/8/09 12:36 PM High and Low Context http://www. culture-at-work. com/highlow. html

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 codi? ed, 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. Examples: 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 High: Dense, intersecting networks and longterm relationships, strong boundaries, relationship more important than task Low: 2 of 4 5/8/09 12:36 PM High and Low Context http://www. culture-at-work. com/highlow. html Loose, wide networks, shorter term, compartmentalized relationships, task more important than relationship 2. Main Type of Cultural Knowledge High: 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 Entering High and Low Context Situations High contexts can be dif? cult to enter if you are an outsider (because you don’t carry the context information internally, and because you can’t instantly create close relationships). Low contexts are relatively easy to enter if you are an outsider (because the environment contains much of the information you need to participate, and because can you form relationships fairly soon, and because the important thing is accomplishing a task rather than feeling your way into a relationship).

Remember that every culture and every situation has its high and low aspects. Often one situation will contain an inner high context core and an outer low context ring for those who are less involved. For instance, a PTA is usually a low context situation: any parent can join, the dates of the meetings, who is president, what will be discussed, etc. are all explicitly available information, and it is usually fairly clear how to participate in the meetings. However, if this is a small town, perhaps the people who run the PTA all know each other very well and have many overlapping interests.

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