The consequences of using high-context style in a low-context culture. It has long been appreciated that communication across cultures can bring pitfalls and problems for those who are not well prepared in advance. There is often a very large barrier caused by the fact that people speak different languages, and people usually overcome this barrier by using interpreters, or by learning the language of the other party…
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Often these cultural differences only surface when things go wrong, and looking back at the interactions which have taken place, people see that misunderstanding and confusion has crept in to a situation, despite the best efforts of all concerned. It is important, therefore, for research to be conducted which teases out the factors which influence intercultural communication, so that the findings can be applied to real life situations, and communication across cultures can become more comfortable and effective for all participants. This topic has been very extensively explored by theorists of media and culture in the last thirty years, and so the approach taken for this paper is to briefly sketch the state of knowledge on high and low context cultures and what the effects are of using high context style in a low context culture. The theories of E. Hall and G. Hofstede on culture, and Enninger on cross-cultural communication are summarized, with an emphasis on their categorisation of high and low cultural contexts. These theories are situated in their specific historical context of the mid-twentieth century. After this several important developments which have arisen in the intercultural communication field since the mid twentieth century are explored. These include political and economic factors as well as developments in theory. Because of the wide-ranging nature of these questions, and the modest scope of this paper, it is not appropriate to engage in fieldwork, but rather the approach which is used is a meta-analysis of existing research which draws out the main findings of other scholars. As a starting hypothesis it is assumed that there are specific consequences which arise when high context style is used in a low context culture. This basic hypothesis is tested with reference to the classic theories of Hall and Hofstede. A second hypothesis in relation to high and low context communication is that there has been some change in people’s general understanding of cultural difference since the mid twentieth century and that this will affect the way that high and low context interaction takes place in the second decade of the twenty first century. The consequences of high and low context interaction therefore might not be the same now as they would have been even twenty or thirty years ago, and this is an interesting gap in the research which needs to be followed up. This paper seeks to identify any new or emerging consequences of using high context style in a low context culture at the present time. The work of E. Hall (1981) in the anthropological field resulted in his theory of high and low context cultures. One of the main differences between the two cultures, which are presented as opposites, lies in the amount of implicit and explicit communication that goes on. High context cultures, such as Chinese and also French, place a great value on group, family and company identity, and people live their lives in constant awareness of the networks and hierarchies to which they belong. The more familiar two speakers are, the more ambiguous, indefinite and sparse their conversation needs to be. Low
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