Friday, June 13, 2014

High Context (Western) versus Low Context (Asian) communication Part 2

High Context (Western) versus Low Context (Asian) communication Part 2

Implicit communication occurs often in what the anthropologist Edward Hall 
referred to as high-context cultures. In such cultures, people leave many things unsaid.
The context, made up of the environment, the situation, and the parties involved, itself
carries messages that complement the spoken word and make up for the things that are left
unsaid. Malaysian culture is a high-context culture, as are the cultures of many Asian and
Arab nations.

In low-context cultures, such as Switzerland and much of Europe, communication is
more explicit. Expectations, relationships, and knowledge are typically made more explicit
in such cultures. There is less that is assumed to have been communicated in low-context
cultures. Thus, an inverse relationship exists between the level of context and the level
of verbalized communication.

The response of the Malaysian government to the present MH370 missing plane crisis is a case in point. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott chose to come forward with
information about satellite imagery of debris almost immediately, even before it was confirmed to be relevant to the missing plane. This alacrity and transparency of response associated with ‘low context’ stood in contrast to Malaysia’s actions which invited criticism.

The way the Malaysian authorities have handled the communication crisis is in no small
part the result of long standing political, social as well as cultural factors. Typically print
and broadcast media channels are tightly controlled  and the need to ‘maintain face’ did
not allow Malaysia to admit how little information it had and its inability to handle such
an unprecedented situation. Malaysian Airlines has been accused of lack of transparency
on various counts: withholding of critical information about the plane’s course deviation
in a timely and relevant manner amongst others.  

In the global business arena, communication differences also come to the fore. Business 
practices are shaped by deeply-held cultural attitudes toward work, power, trust, wealth and
communication. Business collaboration on complex product specifications and production
schedules must be mutually understood and intricate deals between trading partners must be
negotiated. To overcome the staggering variety of business styles and conduct successful
business requires that all parties recognize the importance on intercultural communication
skills as we conduct business in an increasingly multi-polar world economy.

If you would like to know more about how I can help your company overcome 
hurdles in intercultural communication with your key Asian business partners,

please feel free to contact me for a free non-obligatory consultation.

High Context (Western) versus Low Context (Asian) communication Part 1

In a global economy, understanding and embracing cultural differences is
more than a good idea. It’s a competitive advantage. From sales to
manufacturing and customer service, it’s no secret that better communication
equals better business.

People of  western heritage tend to believe that words are the most
important part of a communication process and are said to belong to a
‘low context’ culture where the mass of information is vested in the
explicit code or the actual spoken words. But in a ‘high context’ culture,
words alone do not convey the whole meaning to a spoken message,
most of the information is embedded in the speaker or the circumstances
(context) of the situation and remain implicit or unspoken.

Example dialogue:

Four weeks ago, I talked to my brother, living in Penang, Malaysia
on the phone and we discussed puzzling aspects of the missing
Malaysian Airlines plane MH 370. Naturally, I checked with him to see
if anyone we knew (relatives, friends, acquaintances) might have been
on that fateful plane.

Me: So do you know if anyone we know was on that flight?
Brother: No.
Me: You don’t know?
Brother: None, no one we know.
Me: And how can you be sure of that?
Brother (surprised at this question): What ………the newspapers are full of it.
Me: Oh, you mean  the airline has released the names of people on that plane?
Brother: Of course. All the names of passengers have been published.
I’ve looked through the full list. No one we know.
Me: I see ……………..good that they’ve done that. Watching it on CNN,
I had no idea the local papers had released the names of the passengers.
I’m relieved to hear you say that.

My brother being typically ‘high context’ didn’t offer complete information up
front  until he was prodded to do so. He seemed to assume that the plane’s list
of passengers would have been released around the world. It was up to me to
elicit the additional information with a couple of extra questions. 

Cross-Cultural Synergies combines global cultural awareness of communication
differences such as described above, with proven adult learning methods to
deliver immediate results in the workplace. There is a growing body of data to
support what we see time and time again: diversity training has the potential to
increase productivity, sales, retention and customer satisfaction. And these
benefits ultimately translate into a stronger top and bottom line.

Intercultural competence - an integral component of global leadership skills

“In addition to extraordinary business leadership skills, a leader now needs cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence requires transcending one's own cultural background to interact with diverse and unknown intelligences” 

(E. S. Wibbeke, leader of Fortune 500 firms, in Global Business Leadership, 2009)


As an intercultural trainer targeting Swiss multinationals active in China,helping to bridge gaps in communication styles and values, I occasionallyrun into senior managers who say: "Leadership training is our top priorityat the moment, come back to us later".

Become a better leader through cross-cultural awareness

Our world is changing rapidly. You can choose to watch from the sidelines, 

let your competition steal the march on you or you can decide to actively shape what will be. To meet the unique challenges of the 21st century workplace and remain competitive, managers need to have the skills necessary to leverage diversity as a strength.

In making the change from a functional leadership to a business leadership position, managers will need to:
Þ       develop and implement business strategies 
Þ       integrate the work of multiple functions to achieve superior business results
Þ       design and structure business units and build cross-functional teams to deliver results.

The majority of these teams are likely to be cross-cultural in nature given the increasingly diverse workforce, and the fact that diversity brings innovation, fresh perspective and creative problem-solving to a dynamic workplace.

In order to take advantage of these cultural synergies, managers need to examine their own frame of reference through which they view the world and actively seek to broaden it in order to build effective work groups and create an inclusive work environment. This contributes to better employee relations and happier employees.

Ability to assess the competitive environment and take account of multiple stakeholders 
(governments, regulators, customers, suppliers, employees) of necessarily different cultural backgrounds and value systems, is necessary to create a vision and strategy for a complete business. Benefits to customers and stakeholders ultimately spill over into top as well as bottom line results for your organization.

As a CEO, leading change in your organization and developing capabilities to influence, negotiate, communicate and manage conflict can only be effective if employees and stakeholders feel listened to, respected and valued for their diverse contributions. This is all part and parcel of developing your strengths in personal leadership and becoming a 21st century business leader that inspires change in others.