Low Context and High Context cultures

Cultural Divide, Low Context Versus High Context (direct vs indirect)
In my opinion and experience, this is the cultural difference that probably causes the most frustration, hurt feelings and misunderstandings. It’s also the most difficult one for me to adapt to- I can understand it in my head, but I can’t see it when it’s happening, and it’s really, really hard for me rephrase my communication to be more high context, or to understand what people really mean to be saying when they are coming from a high context culture. It’s not a lack of desire, it’s like being colour blind and trying to function in a world where everybody else assumes you see colour and this word is entirely colour-coded and it hurts peoples feelings if you don’t know the code, and the people are the kindest, sweetest people in the world and you don’t want to hurt their feelings and they know Americans are like that so they try not to take offense, but it still happens. I don’t know the code. I can’t see the code. I can’t tell when I have violated the code. I feel like a bull in a china shop, blundering around, crashing into things, but but the bull is also blindfolded.

It’s not just direct vs indirect communication- because there, often the issue is that we really just have different things we are direct about. But it’s also more complicated than that. It’s about the context of the communications. Because I am a blindfolded bull I can’t explain that well by myself.

So, I’m just going to copy and paste directly from the notes provided in the PDF for this lecture from the cultural intelligence series- not all of it, but enough to give you, hehehe, ‘context.’

The degree to which you want someone to “shoot straight” with you—to directly and clearly say what they mean and mean what they say—is a value that is influenced by both personality and culture. In this lecture, you will learn that low context, whether an individual or a society as a whole, is where one goes to great lengths to be very clear and explicit using words. High context depends much more heavily on implied meaning and assuming that the listener will pick up in between the lines. **Low versus High Context**
In the cultural dimension known as low versus high context, a low-context culture takes very little for granted in communication. Things are explained explicitly and directly, and little is left to subjective interpretation. Very little emphasis is placed on using the context to interpret the meaning.
In a high-context culture, communication presumes an understanding of unwritten rules and a shared narrative that informs a person of what is going on. It is not necessarily assumed that people mean what they say and say what they mean.
If you’ve had much interaction with people from different cultures—through traveling, work, or simply various relationships—you’ve encountered this cultural difference. This partly explains why someone might give you incorrect directions rather than telling you that they don’t know. It also explains why you may be caught off-guard when you discover that someone has been very upset with you but never told you.
The reason this is referred to as context is because it refers to the degree to which individuals and societies reply on the context itself to provide meaning. Context includes things like environment (such as the setting, location, etc.); process (how a meeting or social gathering is conducted, how people were invited, etc.); body language, facial expression, and tone of voice; and appearance (how you’re dressed, what car you drive, where you live, etc.).
Low-context cultures place much less emphasis on things like environment and appearance. Communication is primarily dependent on what people say. Low-context cultures focus more on verbal communication than body language, looking for visible, external reaction.
High-context cultures are very in tune with the context and environment. The context of an event is as important as the event itself. There is no distinction between the idea and the person. A high-context person listens as much to what is not being said as to what is being said.
All of us pay some attention to context as a way of deriving meaning, but for a high-context person, the context of an interaction is constantly being evaluated—so much that it’s looked at more than the words themselves. Someone can say one thing, but you’re primarily looking at the cues the person is sending from his or her responses, questions, nonverbal actions, and overall attentiveness.
In low-context cultures, if there’s a misunderstanding, the assumption is usually first that the person doing the talking wasn’t clear in their communication. In high-context cultures, the default assumption is that the listener has failed.
This cultural difference can be quite readily observed at a societal or institutional level as well. Low-context cultures are usually oriented toward lots of outsiders visiting or living there. The assumption is that not everyone is from there, so they can’t presume that people know what the rules are or how to get around.
When you visit a low-context culture, it’s usually easier to find your way around. The Netherlands is one of the most low-context cultures in the world. This is reflected in how Dutch people interact High-context cultures are much harder to navigate as an outsider. Traditionally, high-context places don’t need street signs or signs telling you where to exit for gasoline and food because if you’re from there, you know how to get around.
Most of us behave in high-context ways within certain subcultures. For example, think about what it’s like to listen to a doctor explain a medical situation to you. They often function in very high-context ways, using lingo and making references that you don’t understand.
Religious communities and, most of all, our families are the most high-context examples of all. Within a religious community, there’s a shared understanding of various traditions and ceremonies. In addition, your family has a shared history together and knows the inside jokes, so when a spouse meets your family, he or she is confused. The same thing occurs in various national cultures. Where Does This Come From?
You don’t have to think hard to see the connection between many of these cultural value dimensions. While there are exceptions, you typically find individualist cultures being more oriented toward low context. Each person needs to clearly say something, and identity is individualized more than around the collective.
High power distance—the level of hierarchy that exists within a culture—also plays a role. Peers in a high power distance culture would typically be quite indirect. A boss would be very direct with a subordinate, and a subordinate would be extremely indirect with a superior.
This also stems from extensive research that’s been done on how cultures look at the world as a whole. Neuroscientists have consistently found that Westerners walk into a room and focus on the primary object or person, and Easterners walk into a room and focus on the holistic context.
It seems that our cultural environments actually play a role in how our brains are wired. If we’ve been socialized in a low-context, individualized society, more than likely, our neurological wiring is oriented to focus on specifics and clarity. If we’ve been socialized in a high-context, collectivist society, it’s more likely that our brains have been wired to focus on the full context and interpreting meaning far more subjectively.

From http://amzn.to/2FuYTlq
I got mine free from Audible when they were running a special. I have read a couple of David Livermore’s books and I vastly prefer the lectures. They are more informative.

According to this website:

“High-context cultures often display the following tendencies, according to C.B. Halverson’s book Cultural Context Inventory.

Association: Relationships build slowly and depend on trust. Productivity depends on relationships and the group process. An individual’s identity is rooted in groups (family, culture, work). Social structure and authority are centralized.
Interaction: Nonverbal elements such as voice tone, gestures, facial expression and eye movement are significant. Verbal messages are indirect, and communication is seen as an art form or way of engaging someone. Disagreement is personalized, and a person is sensitive to conflict expressed in someone else’s nonverbal communication.
Territoriality: Space is communal. People stand close to each other and share the same space.
Temporality: Everything has its own time, and time is not easily scheduled. Change is slow, and time is a process that belongs to others and nature.
Learning: Multiple sources of information are used. Thinking proceeds from general to specific. Learning occurs by observing others as they model or demonstrate and then practicing. Groups are preferred, and accuracy is valued.”

“Low-Context Cultures
A low-context culture relies on explicit communication. In low-context communication, more of the information in a message is spelled out and defined. Cultures with western European roots, such as the United States and Australia, are generally considered to be low-context cultures.

Low-context cultures often display the following tendencies, according to Halverson.

Association: Relationships begin and end quickly. Productivity depends on procedures and paying attention to the goal. The identity of individuals is rooted in themselves and their accomplishments. Social structure is decentralized.
Interaction: Nonverbal elements are not significant. Verbal messages are explicit, and communication is seen as a way of exchanging information, ideas and opinions. Disagreement is depersonalized; the focus is on rational (not personal) solutions. An individual can be explicit about another person’s bothersome behavior.
Territoriality: Space is compartmentalized. Privacy is important, so people stand farther apart.
Temporality: Events and tasks are scheduled and to be done at particular times. Change is fast, and time is a commodity to be spent or saved. One’s time is one’s own.
Learning: One source of information is used. Thinking proceeds from specific to general. Learning occurs by following the explicit directions and explanations of others. Individual orientation is preferred, and speed is valued.”

This website focuses more on the different high and low context microcultures or situations within the same society- for example, America is a very low-context culture in general- we need explicit communication. But within families, we are very high context- we share so much background context that we don’t need explicit communication (this is probably true of other families in other cultures, at least I would assume it is).

This interested me:
“High contexts can be difficult to enter if you are an outsider (because you don’t carry the context information internally, and because you can’t instantly create close relationships).

Low contexts are relatively easy to enter if you are an outsider (because the environment contains much of the information you need to participate, and because can you form relationships fairly soon, and because the important thing is accomplishing a task rather than feeling your way into a relationship).

Remember that every culture and every situation has its high and low aspects. Often one situation will contain an inner high context core and an outer low context ring for those who are less involved.”
I’d like to see churches in particular work to become more low-context, make it easier and more comfortable for outsiders to know what they need, expected norms, to be able to form relationships quickly, less so the ‘important part being accomplishing a task.’
You can take a test to see where you fall on the spectrum here: http://www2.pacific.edu/sis/culture/pub/Context_Cultures_High_and_Lo.htm

For Further Reading

Posted in Culture and Counterculture, Davao Diary | 16 Responses

This is my brain on foreign language exposure.

In addition to the work my husband does with kids with disabilities who need extra help, he also works with the following areas/teams/committees:

Admissions
Child Safety
Accreditation
Drama

He was working with recruiting, but that became too much. Lately he’s putting in 12 hour days and stomping out lots of little fires here and there.

Part of his daily workload has included one on one tutoring with one student every morning for 2 hours, and the tutoring is of a nature that I can provide, so to help him out, I started doing this last week. The plan is not for me to do this long-term, it’s an interim measure during a particularly busy period of time due to some time-heavy issues that came up with one of his areas of responsibility.

This is the same child I already tutor after school for an hour, two days a week.

English is her second language, unless it’s her third. English is not much spoken at home, or if it is, it’s not fluent. Her English skills have lagged which is causing her to fall further and further behind, and so all of what I do is geared to just filling in the gaps, broadening her vocabulary, improving her reading and comprehension skills, and I have a fairly free hand. I get to read to her, with her, and have her read the books of my choosing and then we talk about them, and occasionally sing an English language folk song. So this is fun for me. She’s a really sweet, good natured, delightful child, so that makes it even more enjoyable. The only part I don’t love is the morning part, which requires getting me and usually the Cherub up, fed, groomed, dressed and out the door at 7.

I think I’ve mentioned that one of the things I get to do here is English conversation for some of the adult Korean missionaries here. It came about because we invited one of the new young teachers here for dinner. She’s the daughter of missionaries who have been doing Bible translation work for years, and they live near the school. The work they do now is recording audio Bibles in various dialects and putting them on portable MP3 devices. English is the common language for the teams who put these projects together. So the new young teacher introduced me to her mother, and we had her over for dinner (the husband/father was out on the field at the time), and went out for coffee, and then they had us over for dinner. When they had a new couple come who needed to boost their English skills and she asked if I could help, and another couple on the team asked if I could work with them, too. At first it was one day each week. Now it’s every day for one of them, and almost every day for the other. The time and location change based on our schedules. They all live in an apartment practically on school grounds and it has a common living room/kitchen area they can use so we meet there when I am at school already to tutor my young student. Those sessions are supposed to be about an hour each, but because we enjoy ourselves and get to visiting, they end up being closer to 2 hours long- for each couple.

I don’t really see or communicate with anybody else while I am at the school because I’m tutoring while they are at lunch or on breaks, and they are in class when I’m grabbing my lunch or taking a quick bathroom break.

The Cherub doesn’t speak at all.
The normally chatty HM is coming home after supper and he’s practically comotose, so he eats, we watch a K-drama together, and then he goes to sleep. We didn’t even have any company last week, except for our Thursday morning Bible study from 5:30 to 6:30. Everybody who comes to that is Visaya, and while most of the study is in English, two of them prefer to read and speak Visaya.
I have a helper 3 days a week, they both speak Visaya, and one of them tries to speak only Visaya to me. While the conversation meetings are mostly in English, I hear a lot of Korean during those meetings. So basically, the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard more ‘not-English’ than English, by nearly a 4 to 1 ratio.

And I’m blaming that, and not old age, for the fact that a couple nights ago during my weekly Visaya lesson while translating a Visaya sentence into English I had a sudden brain freeze and no matter how hard I tried, I could only think of the Korean word for uncle. I could not retrieve the English word from my brain for almost a full minute. My language teacher could not stop giggling for much longer than that.

Posted in Davao Diary | 2 Responses

Reading and Children

“Although each of the sensory and motor regions is myelinated and functions independently before a person is five years of age, the principal regions of the brain that underlie our ability to integrate visual, verbal, and auditory information rapidly — like the angular gyrus — are not fully myelinated in most humans until five years of age and after …What we conclude from this research is that the many efforts to teach a child to read before four or five years of age are biologically precipitate and potentially counterproductive for many children.” (Wolf, 2008, p 94 – 96) Proust and the Squid

Charlotte Mason didn’t think children should begin formal lessons until they were 6. It seems there’s good science that backs that up.

” For thousands of years, the process of engaging with texts has enriched us, both existentially and – as Wolf’s fascinating book shows – biologically. In particular, reading has given us “the gift of time”- time when our thoughts can move beyond the words on the page to new levels of understanding, time to think the unthinkable. Reading is not just about absorbing information and finding ready-made answers; it is thought-in-action. There are no pre-packaged answers in life. “We can receive the truth from nobody,” said Proust; “we must create it ourselves.” But in the “Google universe”, with its instant over-abundance of information, how we read is being changed fundamentally. On-screen texts are not read “inferentially, analytically and critically”; they are skimmed and filleted, cherry-picked for half-grasped truths. By doing this we risk losing the “associative dimension” to reading, those precious moments when you venture beyond the words of a text and glimpse new intellectual horizons. Although not opposed to the internet, Wolf concludes on a cautionary note: we need to be “vigilant” in order to preserve “the profound generativity of the reading brain”.” (from this review in the Guardian)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

14

For those counting at home, that’s how many grandbabies we have now. Three of them are boys- one boy per family with one daughter having two daughters and no sons.

We have yet to hold four of them, and one of them is walking now.

Four of our girls are married.

The kids live in four states and 2 countries (coz the Cherub is with us in the PHilippines), but one of them is moving back to our state this summer which excites me unbelievably.

If we could afford to live here for the school year and go home for the summers that would be perfect, in my world. My husband says no, he needs Christmas at home in the U.S. too.

I don’t really feel the passing of time the same way most people do. It’s a weird thing, but it’s my thing and it has made living in the Philippines easier for me than it is for my husband. It made being a military wife easier for me, too. But sometimes, the passing of time ambushes me and slams me in the back and I am hit with the weight of many missed moments and experiences and I am super home-sick for a bit and then it passes and I return to my normal Groundhog Day state of limbo, until the next time.

I do have a growing pile of pasalobong (souveneirs, travel gifts) in my closet, however, including what is probably a lifetime supply of notebooks with cute covers. Also, I feel a burning need to go shopping tomorrow and stock up on a few more stuffed animals, toy jeepneys, and Hello Kitty everythings.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Responses

J-Movie

I watched the Japanese movie Full Metal Alchemist. I liked it. I thought it was fun and weird and very Japanese.

I haven’t read any of the mangas, though, which is why I liked it. I am pretty sure if I were a fan of the comics I would hate this. I read some reviews after I watched it and it seems they did leave a lot of stuff out, which only makes sense given the length of the story in comic book form.
But if you are a novice to this manga series and you like the particularly Japanese quirky vibe, I think you’ll find it fun, too. If you’re not sure, maybe try something else first.

It’s violent, so if you are really sensitive to that you’ll want to avoid it. It is comic book style violence, but there’s also a rather sad betrayal that will bruise your heart, and there’s a villainous with a lot of cleavage (her name is Lust, although I don’t remember seeing anything outside of her costume that would support the name. Gluttony was more of a straightforward one to one correspondence with his name).

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Response


  • The Common Room on Facebook

  • Amazon: Buy our Kindle Books

  • Search Amazon


    Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

  • Brainy Fridays Recommends: