Differences Between High Context And Low Context Societies

1518 words - 7 pages

Differences between High Context and Low Context Societies
Context is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as either being “the words that are used with a certain word or phrase and that help to explain its meaning” or “the situation in which something happens: the group of conditions that exist where and when something happens” (Merriam-Webster). These definitions refer to the way a word or phrase is said or to the place in which an action or group of actions occur which help define something and give it meaning to others. Edward T. Hall in his book Beyond Culture then used these definitions to formulate a theory for developing a basis upon which others could use to describe different cultures and features of those within (Hall, 1976). High context cultures are those in which the population tends to use many subtle actions and the environment to convey messages to others whilst low context cultures depend mainly on written and verbal communication that is explicitly stated. Much of the meaning is thought to be associated with the relationships that the people have who are in contact with one another. The stronger the bond, the easier it is to develop a relationship where context can be used to relate ideas, thoughts or meanings without a word being said. Take for example when friends talk to each other. Not everything has to be explicitly stated because prior experiences between the two or more allows for subtleness to be used. In comparison, when two strangers are discussing an issue they are a lot more prone to use explicit ways in which they can both convey and understand each other. Imagine this example on a large scale. Here we have the development of high and low context cultures. This idea is especially apparent when trying to form business deals with various countries that have radically opposite context cultures, for example, Japan and America. Here, there is often a communication barrier which both countries have to cross before a deal can be formulated. Japan is often thought of as a high-context culture whereas America is considered a low-context culture. The differences between the two culture types have been studied many times since Hall came out with his original theory and its understanding is paramount to engaging in prosperous intercultural relations and communication. Some of the differences between these two culture types include the ways in which an individual is seen, communication and conflict resolution.
The way an individual is seen and his/her purpose in each of these cultures is often seen differently. The relationship between those in these cultures is often related back to the culture orientation, i.e. individual and collective orientation (DeVito, 2007). Individual orientation is often associated with low-context cultures and collectivist with high-context cultures. Using the example in the introduction to explain this theory, individualism would be associated between those who do not usually know each other....

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