2018.04.25 Low vs High context in Communication

What does high and low context in communication mean?

Citing from Harvard Business Review when they ran a series of articles on Erin Meyer's model:

"In low-context cultures (such as the U.S., Germany, and the Netherlands), good communication is precise, simple, and explicit. Messages are expressed and understood at face value. Repetition and written confirmation are appreciated, for clarity’s sake. In high-context cultures (such as China, India, and France), communication is sophisticated, nuanced, and layered. Reading between the lines is expected. Less is put in writing, and more is left to interpretation."

The illustration shows that Denmark is not a high context country but it is higher than USA. Because we are from a small country that has had a homogeneous population for many centuries, it has not been necessary to spell out many of the norms and values that are part of our work culture.

USA, on the other hand, has had immigrants from all over Europe and later the world since before it even became its own country. It can not be taken for granted that such a diverse bunch will understand the same if messages are not very explicit.

Note that we are talking about business communication here.

When it comes to social mores, Americans do their best not to offend. They are tremendously hospitable and invite you home for coffee next time you are in the area because you talked to them on the plane. But don't show up unless this "invitation" is followed up with a specific date and time.

Danes are not nearly as inviting - but if you are invited it is because they want you to come.

Americans say "How are you?" as a greeting. That is not an invitation to share your root canal story or your problems finding an affordable place to live in San Francisco. The expected answer is something like "Fine, thank you, and how are you?"

Not everything can be taken at face value.

It is also important to notice that not all communication is the same. If you have "some good advice" to share, do read the post on Feedback before sharing your advice.