Identifying Low- and High-context Communication Part 1

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Cartoon people with in different locations on a globe with speech bubbles above their heads containing greetings in different languages

Identifying Low- and High-context Communication Part 1

In the Context is Everything section of this resource, we gave you information about some of the differences between low-context and high-context communication. In this activity, you’ll be asked to identify which type of communication is being described in a few short scenarios.
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caseID: cIntro

Each option presents you with a different scenario. You will be asked to identify which type of communication is being used. Select an option to practice identifying low- and high-context communication.

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caseID: c1
Cartoon of a man sitting at a desk facing a computer
A U.S. member of the parents’ committee of the local international school is acquainted with a local journalist who is bilingual and has deep ties to the local community.
Parents' committee member: Hi Alma, I know that you’ve got a number of connections who would be perfect for this panel I’m trying to coordinate for the school. Basically, I’d like to have someone who could speak to the cultural interactions between local residents and U.S. citizens. Do you think you’d be able to reach out to a couple of people in your network to see if they’d be available?
Alma: That sounds like a great opportunity for opening up a productive dialogue. I’m happy to help!
Two weeks later…
Parents' committee member: Hi again, Alma, I’m sorry to pester you about this, but have you made any headway with potential panelists?
Alma: Not a problem! I’ve been working on it and discussing the panel with a handful of possible candidates. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.
A few days later…
Parents' committee member: Hi Alma, this is really getting down to the wire. Have you found anyone for me yet?
Alma: I’m still reaching out to a few individuals, but I haven’t received any confirmations.
Parents' committee member: Thank you for that. Can you please let me know immediately if anyone says yes?
This is high-context communication. The U.S. committee member, by relying on the local journalist’s connections, thinks that he has found the connection to accomplish his task. But he isn’t factoring in that his relationship to the journalist is only casual, so the journalist doesn’t have a heavy obligation to help him and ask for favors from her own personal network on his behalf, which could also make the journalist indebted to her contacts in the future.

Networking in a high-context environment with the added challenge of language barriers always takes time, skill, persistence, and a bit of luck. Relationships and the reciprocation of favors are essential to getting many things done.

For more information on high- and low-context communication, review section 03 – Cross-cultural Communication: Context is Everything.

Scenario
What style of communication is the journalist using?
  • Low-context
  • High-context
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caseID: c2
Cartoon of office desk with coffee and computer on it
Female manager
Manager
Male employee
Employee
Manager: Hi! Thanks for taking the time to meet with me today and sharing your feedback on my proposal.
Employee: No problem. I’m happy to share some of my thoughts with you.
Manager: Well, I really value your opinion.
Employee: Overall, I agree with your objectives and plans, but your recommendations are not clearly described and lack some evidence.
Manager: Really? I spent a lot of time on the recommendations. I thought they were strong.
Employee: They could be backed up a bit more. Rely on your experience. You need to spend more time presenting the history of this project and that will make the recommendations more convincing.
Manager: Okay. Great, that makes sense. Are you available if I have any further questions?
Employee: Sure, just send me an email and I’ll respond as soon as I can.
This is low-context communication. Low-context cultures tend to use direct communication, where speakers will say what they mean and mean what they say. They will generally be polite and diplomatic, but ideally they will share their explicit opinions, are not afraid to create discord among the parties, and do not intend to hurt the receiver’s feelings. They believe that disagreement is not disrespectful, and that positive results or improvements are more likely to result from open dialogue.

For more information on high- and low-context communication, review section 03 – Cross-cultural Communication: Context is Everything.

Scenario
What style of communication is this?
  • Low-context
  • High-context
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caseID: c3
Cartoon of living room with bright couch
Rachel, a young woman
Rachel
Phoebe, a young woman
Phoebe
Rachel: I’m so glad you could come to my house and see my new furniture!
Phoebe: Well, you’ve been talking about your new decoration for months.
Rachel: It’s been a big project but we’re finally finished. What do you think? I decided to go bold with colors. I wanted people to really react to the colors.
Phoebe: I think you achieved your goal.
Rachel: So, what do you think? Don’t you love it?
Phoebe: I’ve never seen anything like it before.
Rachel: Right—I wanted something unique.
Phoebe: You certainly succeeded there.
Rachel: Yes, I’m really happy with the result.
This is high-context communication. Direct cultures often assess indirect communication to be insincere, deceptive, or even an outright lie. Indirect cultures believe that nurturing a harmonious relationship is more important that the objective truth. Sometimes direct speakers demand a direct answer, putting indirect speakers in an uncomfortable position. Phoebe, more indirect, offered realistic responses without sharing her negative assessment and possibly hurting Rachel’s feelings, even though Rachel appears to be soliciting Phoebe’s honest opinion.

For more information on high- and low-context communication, review section 03 – Cross-cultural Communication: Context is Everything.

Scenario
What style of communication is this?
  • Low-context
  • High-context
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