One of the most important distinctions between cultures is the way in which people communicate. Essentially, all communication can be classified as high or low context. What does this mean?

Context refers to all of the information shared between speakers of the same culture, including history, religion, social references, the relationship between the speakers, and much more.

It is not surprising that homogeneous cultures are more high context because people in these societies share a lot of the same information. Multi-cultural societies, with people coming from many different cultures, on the other hand, tend to be more low context because they may not share the same social and historical references, or values. People from low context cultures (such as Anglo-Saxon countries) tend to communicate in a more direct and explicit way than people from high context cultures (such as Southern European). Whether you belong to a high or low context culture determines how much you depend on words to communicate your message, the number of words you use to convey a message, how much information you share with others and who you share information with. This distinction has implications for all aspects of communication when it comes to business.

What are some difference between high and low context communication? Here are some other characteristics of high and low context cultures:

High Context:

  • High use of body language; voice tone, facial expression, gestures, and eye contact.
  • Verbal message is indirect; people talk around the point and embellish it.
  • Communication is seen as and art form – a way of engaging someone.

Low Context:

  • The message is carried more by words than by body language.
  • Verbal message is direct and expressed explicitly.
  • Communication is seen as a way of exchanging information, ideas, and opinions.

In the business world, the majority of English speakers are non-native speakers so they do not share the same social and historical references (context). Therefore, a low context style is more easily understood by everyone. A clear and concise form can be quickly understood and acted on. To sum up, when communicating in English you will communicate more effectively if you use a low context style of communication.

How does this affect the way we convey messages when it comes to interpretation and translation?

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