Cultural Differences in Communication: High and Low Context Cultures


Verbal differences in communication are usually pretty easy to figure out. In many cases we can tell by accents and dialects where a person might come from. When we communicate purely at the verbal level we are communicating at a conscious level and this is far from what non-verbal communication is all about (excluding speakers who may be consciously communicating non-verbally like sales people).


Non-verbal communication is often an unconscious thing. So, in addition to the difficulty of communicating verbally and consciously there’s now another factor added to the equation of communication. That is, we now have to be familiar with the cultural differences of gestures, looks, attitudes, vibes, energies and facial expressions that may be beyond our current repertoire of communication knowledge. For example, a man from Japan may refuse eye-contact in a business dealing in order to be polite with someone from the United States. Without being informed of the cultural differences of Japan, the American might develop a mistrust of the Japanese man because of a simple lack of cultural knowledge. There are many of these examples of misunderstandings in the world everyday and all that stands in the way of a friendly relationship is a simple awareness of cultural differences.


Now, because non-verbal communication is an unconscious thing it’s difficult to obtain information about these cues with absolute certainty because most of the times many of us are unaware that we are even communicating in this way. To make matters worst, we might further complicate a communication situation by not acknowledging the differences of high and low context cultures. For example, a person from Italy might be beside himself irritated at the many probing questions of a person from Germany. This is because people in high-context cultures often find it absolutely intolerable to be probed too much.


Most of today’s research point to the fact that non-verbal communication is how most of us communicate. With so many variables to consider it isn’t hard to find a reason as to why there are so many misunderstandings in the world. So remember when meeting someone new be slow to jump to conclusions, don’t make assumptions, and always ask questions if you aren’t sure about something that they’ve said or done.

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Post Author: Chad

A Nobody Just Trying to Figure Things Out.

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