Culture And Verbal Communication Essay, Research Paper
Culture and Verbal CommunicationFor this paper, I have once again chosen a topic that I have a great deal of interest in. I find it absolutely fascinating how something like culture can so dramatically affect the communication that may or may not take place between individuals of different cultures. In this paper, I will examine the differences between high- and low-context cultures, and the problems that can arise during communication between members of different cultures. Before looking at the differences between high- and low-context, we must first determine just what they are. To begin we must clearly define context. Context is the information that surrounds an event; it is inextricably bound up with the meaning of that event. The elements that combine to produce a given meaning – events and context – are in different proportions depending on the culture. The cultures of the world can be compared on a scale from high to low. According to Edward Hall, in his book Beyond Culture, low-context cultures use language primarily to express thought, ideas and feelings as clearly and logically as possible. To understand what is being communicated one must look at the spoken words. Put simply, in a low-context culture, what is said is what is meant. Conversely, in a high-context culture, there is a usage of subtle cues, often nonverbal with the aim of maintaining social harmony. The communicators from these cultures learn to determine what is truly being expressed by examining nonverbal behaviors, context of the message, history of the relationship, and the social rules governing interaction. Japanese, Arabs, and Mediterranean peoples, who have extensive information networks among family, friends, colleagues and clients and who are involved in close personal relationships, are considered high-context. As a result, they do not require or expect much in-depth, background information when communicating in their daily lives. This is because they keep those that are close to them informed about what is going on in their lives and so there is a common thread of knowledge among them. Low-context people would include Americans, Germans, Swiss and other northern Europeans. These people separate themselves and do not share information with others about their personal relationships, their work, and many aspects of their day-to-day life. As a result every time they interact with others they have to spend a lot of time sharing and explaining detailed background information. With each culture there are going to be different specific individual differences in the need for contexting or the process of filling in important background data. But the key is knowing whether the culture with whom you re communicating falls on the high or low side of the context scale. Listed below are some important characteristics of high- and low-context communication styles taken from our textbook Groups In Context. Characteristics of Low and High-Context CommunicationLow-ContextHigh-ContextInformation:Much of the information is inMuch of the information is in the contextualthe explicit verbal messages.cues, such as situation, relationship, time There is not as much relianceand place. There is not as much reliance onon the context in terms of explicit verbal messages. relationship, time, and place. Aims:Opinions and needs are statedOpinions and needs are stated indirectly. directly. Communicators mayCommunicators will abstain from directlyattempt directly to persuade.Saying no. Relational harmony is Self-expression is important.important. Directness:Clear, eloquent speech isAmbiguity and silence are valued, and anvalued, and verbal fluency isability to talk around the point isimportant.important. One of the hardest factors to sort out when dealing with high- and low-context communication, is determining how much information is enough to convey a message or thought between the individuals. Edward and Mildred Hall comment on this in their book Understanding Cultural Differences. They say that high-context people are apt to become impatient and irritated when low-context people insist on giving them information they don t need. And it s just the opposite when low-context people are at a loss when high-context people do not provide enough information. This question of how much information is enough turns into one of the great communication challenges in life. Too much information leads people to feel they are being talked down to; too little information can mystify them or make them feel left out. These adjustments are fairly easily within one s own culture, but in other countries or cultures the message often goes over their head.
This subject becomes increasingly important as technology improves and the world becomes an even smaller place. Because of the advancements in technology, people are having more and more contact with individuals from around the world. Understanding the meaning of high and low-context is of course important, not only in traveling, vacationing, and touring the world, but is even more important with the increase in diplomatic and business relationships that countries are developing with each other around the world. For example, in a business setting this is extremely important if an individual(s) is giving a presentation to another country. If the presentation is given by a low-context group to a high-context group, the high context members may feel as though there is way too much information being given, and the presenter(s) should just get to the point. The opposite can be said when high-context individuals present to a low-context group, there may be a feeling of unclairty or vagueness because everything was not spelled out during the presentation. We can even see examples of high- and low-context here on our own campus. We have a large population of International students from around the world currently attending our campus. I had the opportunity last semester to observe both high- and low-context communication take place. A friend of mine was an instructor for an ESL (English as a Second Language) course offered through the Center for Learning Assistance. I believe the title of the course was Speech Communication for ESL. I was allowed to observe the class one day. The instructor began the class by discussing persuasive speeches and their purpose. The remainder of class was given to the students to present their informative speeches which they prepared the week before. The class contained students from Thailand, Germany, the Middle East and Japan. It was so interesting to observe how different individuals presented their information and the reaction that some of the students displayed as they absorbed the information. For some of the students the basic information presented was easily understood, but for others you could see the difficulty in understanding clearly expressed on their faces. Often times I saw one person turn to a person from the same country, obviously asking what the speaker meant. Some of the presenters would pick-up on this and attempt to further explain. This attempt on behalf of the speaker to communicate effectively with a member from another culture enhanced the understanding on the part of the listener. As I mentioned earlier the world is becoming a smaller place and as different cultures come into more and more contact with each other problems will arise. One of the contributors to these problems is misunderstanding. Granted there are and will be differences based on the language but also from the context of the communication. The first step in preventing some of these problems is understanding some of the differences between your own culture and the culture with which one is interacting. Perhaps if more people were aware of the differences between how we communicate, more time could be spent on communicating, and not trying to figure out what the other is really trying to say.
Hall, Edward T., Beyond Culture. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1977. Hall, Edward T., Hall, Mildred R., Understanding Cultural Differences. Maine: Intercultural Press, Inc., 1990. Storti, Craig, Cross-Cultural Dialogues. Maine: Intercultural Press, Inc., 1994. Wilson, Gerald L., Groups In Context: Leadership and Participation in Small Groups. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1996.