I guess school is paying off for my personal life. I learned a little something this week about communication. Now, I know quite well that I live in a low-context culture and that most Asian cultures are high-context cultures. Most of us do. Low context cultures include: American (Northern states), Australian, English, CanadianEnglish, German, Irish, New Zealand, and Scandinavia. High context cultures include: just about everybody else.
In a high context culture, many things are left unsaid, letting the culture explain. Words and word choice become very important in higher context communication, since a few words can communicate a complex message very effectively to an in-group (but less effectively outside that group), while in a lower context culture, the communicator needs to be much more explicit and the value of a single word is less important.
Low context cultures tend to be ones that have recent diversity, lack of a rigid social structure and little shared mythology. High context cultures have a strong history, social structure and mythology that has changed little over time. High context cultures can develop in pockets among the greater low context ones. The mid-west is one place this is generally true. And there is, of course, a continuum from low to high.
High context can include a lot of things like gestures or body language, social and ceremonial actions, facial expressions, reserved displays of emotion, level of personalization in conversation, thinking that proceeds from general to specific, associative implications, intonation, behavior modeling, emphasis on group dynamics, age or status, and a general sense that “conflict either must be solved before work can progress or must be avoided”.
Sounds complicated, huh? It is. I suspect this is why my friend says about his (ex) American girlfriend, “She just couldn’t understand me.” I suppose this is the magical understanding that JJ told me his (ex) Indian girlfriend had that I seemed to lack (I think he is right). And the people I tend to communicate easily with have the ability to be low context.
But don’t be fooled by the words “low context”, it’s just as complicated for someone from a high context culture. Emotions, learning process, problem solving techniques, rules of engagement, relationship building processes, inductive thinking moving from specific to general can be just as difficult for someone from a high context culture. Even if they have been in a low context culture for a while. In most cases these differences are not taught to you unless you come from a mixed family, it’s like learning a second language. The good news is, most of us are perfectly capable once we learn the “language of communication”. And when we become proficient in both, just like being bi-lingual, it is easy two switch between the two.
Interestingly, I looked at the list of high context cultures and I discovered that there is one other thing they also have in common (as I generalize…), most have spicier and more interesting food. Is there a connection? Maybe.
This was a fun little intellectual exercize, but I really wanted to share with you the loveliness we baked last night.
If you come by tomorrow night, there will also be Coconut Mango Macaroons dipped in dark chocolate, and Lavender short bread.
You own a privileged place in my heart. A place you have not earned, or deserved. – Jamie Elizabeth Danielle Weise