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High and Low Context Communication Styles

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High and Low Context Communication Styles

The "context" is the information that surrounds an event and is strongly connected with the event. The elements that combine together to give meaning to an event are different depending on the culture.

High context refers to societies or groups where people have close connections over a long period of time. Many aspects of cultural behavior are not made explicit because most members know what to do and what to think from years of interaction with each other. Your family is probably an example of a high context environment.

In high-context societies, there is less verbally explicit communication and less formal information. Multiple network ties and intersections with others create more internalized understandings of what is communicated. These relationships are long term and there are strong boundaries concerning who is accepted as belonging versus who is considered an "outsider." Decisions and activities focus around personal relationships and often around a central person who has authority. Examples include small religious congregations, family gatherings, and neighborhood restaurants with regular clientele.

Low context refers to societies where people tend to have many connections but of shorter duration or for some specific reason. In these societies, cultural behavior and beliefs may need to be spelled out explicitly so that those coming into the cultural environment know how to behave.

Low-context societies are rule orientated and more knowledge is public, external, and accessible. There is a separation of time, of space, of activities, and of relationships. More interpersonal connections exist but of shorter duration. Knowledge is more transferable in low-context societies. Decisions and activities focus around what needs to be done and there is a division of responsibilities. Examples include large US airports, a corporate supermarket chain, and sports where rules are clearly laid out.

Low contexts are relatively easy to enter if you are an outsider. The environment contains much of the information you need to participate, you form relationships fairly soon, and because the importance is accomplishing a task rather than becoming accustomed to a relationship. Conversely, high contexts can be difficult to enter if you are an outsider because you don't carry the context information



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