In the first post on this topic, Low-Context communication was defined as:
High-Context Communication was defined as:
The High- Low-Context Continuum
Now let’s have a look at where the cultures fall on the High- Low-Context Continuum. I have chosen to approximate the continuum from Erin Meyer’s book The Culture Map (1). You can access an infographic if the continuum here...
Finding Your Position on the Continuum
Knowing where you are on the continuum is less about the absolute position and more about your position relative to the culture of the person you are speaking with. Knowing if you are a High- or Low-Context communicator (based on your home culture and mother-tongue) is a self-awareness exercise. What’s important is to understand what modifications you may need to make when speaking to people from another culture when making a presentation.
Taking Individual Difference into Account.
It’s important to say that each of us has a personal communication style that is influenced by our personality. An individual who comes from a High-Context communication culture may personally communicate more directly than is the norm in their home culture. Likewise, a person from a Low-Context culture might be more indirect than is the norm in their culture.
The Link Between Language and Culture
Because language reflects culture, the language you are speaking impacts the degree of context that is required in the communication. Let me give you an example of what I mean by that. American English is my mother tongue and I am fluent in Italian. As we have seen, American English is a very Low-Context language. Italian is somewhat higher on the continuum. When I speak Italian, it is much easier for me to be vague and indirect than when I am speaking English.
For example, “Lui e cosi…” means “He’s like this…”. In Italian, my interlocutor would automatically finish the phrase in their head with the appropriate descriptor (He’s silly, stupid, smart, handsome, etc.). If I say in English: “He’s like this…”, it’s more likely that my interlocutor would as the question “He’s like what?” In English, we are less comfortable with vague, open-ended phrases and non-specific words that need to be interpreted by the listener.
In subsequent blog posts we will investigate what all of this means for non-native speakers of English when they have to make presentations in English, and for native speakers of English (especially American English) when they have to present in English to people from other cultures.