Friday, June 13, 2014

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.

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