High/Low Context Communication
For the USA, I was considering choosing this itinerary, Brazil to Miami to Orlando to Jacksonville to Savannah to Washington D.C. to New York City. New York City to Atlanta, Georgia, and New Orleans to Los Angeles, and Texas, San Francisco, Miami, and then finally Brazil. And the direct questions and observations are not necessarily meant to offend, but to clarify and advance shared goals.
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Hello everyone, and welcome to our final module. Over the past several weeks, you’ve improved your understanding of professional emails and your use of key language for different types of emails. To wrap up our course, this module will look at cultural considerations. Have you ever had an uncomfortable exchange with someone from a different country than you? Maybe there was some miscommunication because of the cultural differences you had. Well, in this lesson, you’ll have the opportunity to reflect on your own cultural communication habits as well as think about how to understand your readers cultural standpoint. To do so, we’ll look at the difference between high context and low context communication in this lesson. And think about some other factors that could change how you write your email, such as age and gender, in our next lesson. You will also be introduced to some common cultural differences from around the world and see how these might affect communication in emails. By the end of this lesson, you’ll be able to recognize communication style differences in emails and write more culturally appropriate business emails. Let’s start off by taking a look at this email exchange.
Hello, Rachel. How have you been? The holidays are upon us again and so my vacation in January. I’ve got 30 days, so I’ve been considering to go to Europe or North America. I haven’t been overseas yet. My trip would be 50% tourism and 50% studies. I wanted to do a crash course to get a certificate for EFL teaching. Can you tell me where I can find one? I’m interested in ESP. For the USA, I was considering choosing this itinerary, Brazil to Miami to Orlando to Jacksonville to Savannah to Washington D.C. to New York City. New York City to Atlanta, Georgia, and New Orleans to Los Angeles, and Texas, San Francisco, Miami, and then finally Brazil. So what is your opinion? I’m so confused. I don’t have a lot of money, and so I’m afraid of traveling in bad weather. Europe or USA? Best, Rodrigo.
I’ve only met Rodrigo once at a conference, but this email seems way too personal, and I’m not really even sure what the real purpose of this email is. I don’t even know if I should respond or not.
The reader felt uncomfortable because as an American, she’s used to low context communication. What is low context communication? Well, low context communicators are used to straight forward, concise, and efficient ways of communicating. Much value is placed on logic, facts, and directness. In general, North America and Western Europe are considered low context cultures. In the case of our writer Rodrigo, his style reflects high context communication. Communication in high context cultures tends to be non-explicit and include more descriptive language. Emails also tend to be longer. The Middle East, Asia, Africa, and South America are some examples of high context cultures. Let’s look at another example of this type of cultural exchange.
Hey Chung, how are you doing? I wanted to touch base with you about the meeting we had last week. You mentioned your boss might be interested in purchasing our new product, and I wanted to know if you talked with him about it. Let me know the latest. I’ll talk to you soon. Sally.
This email interaction from an American to a South Korean could be interpreted as extremely informal by the Korean. Since formality is extremely important in Korean culture, the recipient of this email might feel offended by the lack of it in the email. In this case, we have the issue of a low context culture writer mismatched with a high context culture reader. When you know the country where your reader’s from, considering whether they are high or low context communicators, is the easiest way to consider cultural differences. If you’re not sure, you can easily do a Google search about these two types of communication styles. What about you? Are you from a low context or a high context culture? In other words, do you communicate more directly, or indirectly? Now that we know the difference between two styles, here are some tips for communication. Low context communicators interacting with high context communicators should be aware that status and identity may be communicated non-verbally and require appropriate acknowledgment. And that building a good relationship can contribute to effectiveness over time. High context communicators interacting with low context communicators should be aware that efficiency and effectiveness is achieved through focusing on tasks. And the direct questions and observations are not necessarily meant to offend, but to clarify and advance shared goals. Let’s look at this email interaction email again. How can we edit this email to reflect the reader’s high context communication style? A revised version, taking culture into consideration, may look something like this. You will notice the email starts off with a personalized introduction and the overall language is more indirect and polite. Do you notice the expressions like, would like and would you mind that we learned in our earlier lesson? Also, the way the reader and the boss is addressed, is more formal using Mr. with the last name, instead of first names. Making those small changes completely transformed the tone of the email, and is now less likely to cause any misunderstandings. So let’s review what we’ve covered in this lesson. You’ve learned the difference between low context and high context cultures and how that can influence the style of communication. You’ve also been given some tips on how to communicate with people from the opposite communication context. Now, depending upon the relationship you have with the reader, you may not need to make a lot of changes, even if your from a different communication context. However, knowing how to distinguish the different styles and revising your emails to match those styles will create better overall communication and strong relationships. I’ll see you in our next lesson, where we’ll talk about age and gender considerations.
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