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.

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