Notes on Intercultural Communication

Archive for the ‘Hall – High and Low Context Communication’ Category

E.T.Hall – High Context Communication vs. Low Context Communication

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High Context Communication and Low Context Communication

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The Context

The context gives additional information, which is necessary to encode the whole situation / background of a given information.

high context low context

(retrieved 10.05.2014 at http://my.ilstu.edu/~jrbaldw/372/Values.htm)

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High Context

An example for High Context Communication would be the question, where my (the editor’s) black pepper is. A high context information would be: above my micro-wave. Those people, who know me, my apartment and my kitchen can immediately find the pepper. Their context is to know who I am, where I live, where my kitchen is and where micro-wave. Without the context (additional information) there is not enough information to encrypt the proper meaning.

In high context communication an information can have different meanings according. It needs additional information to encode (understand). Speaking in examples is also a high context information.

  • 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.

(quoted from Culture at Work http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html)

(retrieved 12.09.2013 at http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html)

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High Context Communication is also common in many Western countries

The table sheds light on just how difficult it can be for a foreigner to understand what the British really mean when they’re speaking – especially for those take every word at face value. Phrases that prove the trickiest to decipher include ‘you must come for dinner’, which foreigners tend to take as a direct invitation, but is actually said out of politeness by many Britons and often does not result in an invite. The table also reveals that when a person from Britain begins a sentence “with the greatest respect …’, they actually mean ‘I think you are an idiot’.” (Alice Philipson in The Telegraph 02 Sep 2013)

WHAT THE BRITISH SAY WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN WHAT FOREIGNERS UNDERSTAND
I hear what you say I disagree and do not want to discuss it further He accepts my point of view
With the greatest respect You are an idiot He is listening to me
That’s not bad That’s good That’s poor
That is a very brave proposal You are insane He thinks I have courage
Quite good A bit disappointing Quite good
I would suggest Do it or be prepared to justify yourself Think about the idea, but do what you like
Oh, incidentally/ by the way The primary purpose of our discussion is That is not very important
I was a bit disappointed that I am annoyed that It doesn’t really matter
Very interesting That is clearly nonsense They are impressed
I’ll bear it in mind I’ve forgotten it already They will probably do it
I’m sure it’s my fault It’s your fault Why do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinner It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite I will get an invitation soon
I almost agree I don’t agree at all He’s not far from agreement
I only have a few minor comments Please rewrite completely He has found a few typos
Could we consider some other options I don’t like your idea They have not yet decided
(retrieved 30.09.2013 at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/10280244/Translation-table-explaining-the-truth-behind-British-politeness-becomes-internet-hit.html)

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Low Context

A good manual is an example of low context communication / information. No other information is necessary to understand it. In low context communication an information has only one single meaning. No additional information is necessary to encode (understand) the meaning.

  • 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.
(received 10.05.2014 at http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html)

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High Context vs. Low Context

Take a look how members of high and low contextual cultures see themselves and their opposites:

High Context Communication

  • polite
  • respectful
  • integrates by similarities/harmony
  • not direct
Low Context Communication

  • open
  • true
  • integrates by authenticity
  • direct
High Context claims Low Context

  • impolite
  • “cannot read between the lines”
  • naïve
  • no self discipline
  • too fast
Low Context claims High Context

  • hiding information
  • not trustable
  • arrogant
  • too formal
  • too slow

For an example how a low context culture interacts with a high context culture as the Chinese, please visit GlobThink: http://globthink.com/2009/06/24/indirect-communication-and-indirect-leadership-in-asia/ Unfortunately this link is broken / not existing anymore (reviewed 12.12.2012)

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Applications of Hall`s Theories about the Context

Website Design in High and Low Context Cultures

Parameter: Tendency in HC Cultures Tendency in LC Cultures
Animation High use of animation, especially in connection with images of moving people Lower use of animation, mainly reserved for highlighting effects e.g., of text
Promotion of values Images promote values characteristic of collectivist societies Images promote values characteristic of individualistic societies
Individuals separate or together with the product Featured images depict products and merchandise in use by individuals Images portray lifestyles of individuals, with or without a direct emphasis on the use of products or merchandise
Level of transparency Links promote an exploratory approach to navigation on the website; process-oriented Clear and redundant cues in connection with navigation on a website; goal-oriented
Linear vs. parallel navigation on the website Many sidebars and menus, opening of new browser windows for each new page Few sidebars and menus, constant opening in same browser window

MacDonalds CN

Link to the current Mc Donald’s Website in China

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High Context Cultures

Japan
Arab Countries
Greece
Spain
Italy
England
France
North America
Scandinavian Countries
German-speaking Countries

Low Context Cultures


MacDonalds DE

Link to the current website Mc Donad`s Germany

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(…) Meanwhile, it’s rolling out a new social media campaign, asking consumers to share favorite moments at the store, and it made a massive ad buy on Baidu, China’s main search engine, this weekend. The new togetherness message doesn’t mean China is phasing out global slogan “I’m Lovin’ It.”

“What we’ve done is give a layer of context to the ‘it’ — why are you lovin’ it?’” said Agatha Yap, senior marketing director for McDonald’s China.

Read the full article here or download as pdf here.

(retrieved 21.05.2014 at http://adage.com/article/global-news/mcdonald-s-a-local-touch-chinese-store-decor/292702/)

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M;rs. Martina Wuertz published “A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Websites from High-Context Cultures and Low-Context Culture“, which gives an interesting idea of applications of Hall`s model. Download pdf “Cross-Cultural Analysis of Websites from High-Context Cultures and Low-Context Culture” here.

For more info about website design in different cultures see how AM+A used Hofstede`s framework for analysing website design in different cultures/countries. Download pdf here or visit the website http://www.amanda.com

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Monochrone / Polychrone Times

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Polychrone time

  • no fixed schedule
  • flexible
  • different tasks at one time
  • short term orientated
Monochrone time

  • has a fixed schedule
  • inflexible
  • one task at a time
  • long term orientated

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Western cultures intend to have a monochrone time (mono=single / chrone=time). Time is used as a single line, where all events are lined up. Asian and African cultures intend to have a polychrone conception of time (poly=different / chrone=time). Events happen simultaneously in a polychrone conception of time.

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Dialogue – when two time systems collide

Mr. Paul Rosen is the international sales representative for his computer equipment company. His most recent trip takes him to China,where he is scheduled to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Patrick Chang.

Mr. Rosen and his training team arrived in Beijing three days ago for a scheduled appointment with Mr. Chang. However, Mr. Chang has not yet met with Mr. Rosen or his team. Finally, a call to Mr. Rosen’s hotel room indicates that Mr. Chang is prepared to meet with him. When Mr. Rosen arrives at the location, he is asked to wait outside Mr. Chang’s office. As he waits, he notices many people entering and leaving Mr. Chang’s office at a very quick pace. The hallways of this building are a hustle and bustle of activity, with people shuffling in and out of many rooms. Finally, after several hours, Mr. Rosen is called in to meet Mr. Chang.

Mr. Rosen: Ah, Mr. Chang, it’s so good to finally see you. Gosh, I’ve been waiting for days. Did you forget our appointment?

Mr. Chang: Hello, Mr. Rosen. Please sit down. Everything is fine?

Mr. Rosen: Actually no … (Phone rings) … the problem is …

Mr. Chang: Excuse me … (Takes the phone call and speaks in Chinese. After several minutes he concludes the phone conversation) Yes, now … everything is fine?

Mr. Rosen: Well, actually, I’ve got a small problem. You see, the computer equipment you ordered…(A staff person enters the room and hands Mr. Chang something to sign.)

Mr. Chang: Oh, excuse me… (signs the document) Yes, now, everything is fine?

Mr. Rosen: As I was saying … all of the computer equipment you ordered is just sitting on a ship at the dock. I need your help in getting it unloaded. I mean, it’s been there for two weeks!

Mr. Chang: I see … This is no problem.

Mr. Rosen: Well, if it sits in the heat much longer, it could be damaged. Could I get you to sign a worksgroups to have it unloaded by Friday?

Mr. Chang: There is no need for that. The job will get done.

Mr. Rosen: Well, could we set up some kind of deadline? You see, I have a staff of people here waiting to train your people on the equipment. I need to let them know when it will be ready. How about this Friday? Could we do it then? My people are here now, and they’re waiting to begin training.

Mr.Chang: Dont worry. We have been living quite well without those equipment for years. If necessary, we could wait for several weeks. That’s not the problem.

There is little chance that Mr. Chang will sign any kind of workgroups for Mr. Rosen. Mr. Rosen is also distressed by the constant interruptions. To Mr. Chang, Mr. Rosen is in too much of a hurry. Mr. Rosen is monochronic, whereas Mr. Chang operates from a polychronic time orientation.

Get the full pdf here or visit the website.

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Proxemics

Proxemics is the theory, that people from different cultures have different (imaginary) spaces around them. Link: http://www.edwardthall.com/

See more about E.T.Halls Concept of Personal Space at E. T. Hall – Proxemics (Understanding Personal Space)

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(reviewed 10.05.2014)

Parameter: Tendency in HC Cultures Tendency in LC Cultures
Animation High use of animation, especially in connection with images of moving people Lower use of animation, mainly reserved for highlighting effects e.g., of text
Promotion of values Images promote values characteristic of collectivist societies Images promote values characteristic of individualistic societies
Individuals separate or together with the product Featured images depict products and merchandise in use by individuals Images portray lifestyles of individuals, with or without a direct emphasis on the use of products or merchandise
Level of transparency Links promote an exploratory approach to navigation on the website; process-oriented Clear and redundant cues in connection with navigation on a website; goal-oriented
Linear vs. parallel navigation on the website Many sidebars and menus, opening of new browser windows for each new page Few sidebars and menus, constant opening in same browser window

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