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Cultural Perceptions of Communication in Organizations: Low Context and High Context

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  • 0:07 Society-Based Communication
  • 0:40 Low & High Context
  • 1:37 Relation to…
  • 2:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rob Wengrzyn
Cultures have different perspectives regarding how to communicate. That doesn't necessarily mean words or phrases but the format or structure to that communication. Some are specific and pointed while others believe there is an inherent understanding present. We will discuss this issue here.

Society-Based Communication

One might not think it, but there is an aspect assigned to cultures that deals primarily with how we view communicating with others. This aspect is called low or high context (depending on the culture, which we will talk about in a minute). What that means is cultures, based on how they view interacting, will communicate in different ways. Indeed, they may even view the person with whom they are interacting with a perceived bias based on the culture they come from.

In this lesson, we will talk about low- and high-context cultures, explain their definitions, and discuss how they impact organizational behavior.

Low and High Context

Before we can review how this issue impacts organizational behavior, we have to first understand what low- and high-context cultures are. This will give us a baseline to work from so we can understand how the interaction between these two types of cultures impacts organizational behavior.

  • Low Context: This is a culture where issues are fully detailed and spelled out in communication. Messages are much more specific, and there is a great deal of focus and importance put on what is said. Examples of low-context cultures are Australia, Germany, England, the U.S., and Switzerland.
  • High Context: This is a culture that makes a lot of assumptions about the commonality of communications, views, and knowledge. In this culture, there is more of a quiet understanding of what is going on and less is said about it, as in the end we should be just 'understood'. Examples of high-context cultures are Brazil, China, France, Greece, and Japan.

Relation to Organizational Behavior

When we look at high-context cultures and their communication, especially in the workplace, they typically think there is more of an understanding than there really is. They are less direct and just assume there is this common ground present, and that guides how they communicate.

By contrast, low-context cultures have a hard time accepting and dealing with this form of understanding, which they view as ambiguous. They want to be more direct and more specific, which can be off-putting to someone from a high-context culture.

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