Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds[CHI Ruobing] Questions that are acceptable or embarrassing might vary across cultures. So I think we should give some examples. [Steve Kulich] That's a good idea. One example is whenever I get into a taxi. Many taxi drivers here ask questions like, what's my age? What's my salary? My marital status? Oh, my. When I first came, I had thought, what are these guys wanting to know? But now I realise it's just kind of a curiosity question and so I can relax and answer as I'm able, sometimes with humour. [CHI Ruobing] Yeah. Maybe because of your foreigner look. [Steve Kulich] You think they would ask you the same questions? [CHI Ruobing] I don't think so. Yeah.

Skip to 0 minutes and 43 secondsNormally, I will be just quiet in the taxi. [Steve Kulich] Probably male taxi drivers wouldn't dare to ask. So sometimes gender relations affect this-- sometimes cultural context. How about when you went abroad? What were some of the issues you faced there? [CHI Ruobing] When I was abroad-- and mainly people will ask me all my personal opinions about some environmental issues and social issues. Well, I'd like to be engaged in discussions about those. However, sometimes the way of asking the questions feel so aggressive that I feel uncomfortable. [Steve Kulich] So the problem wasn't the specific content. But sometimes it's the style or way of communication. [CHI Ruobing] Yes. I think I'm not accustomed to the directness.

Skip to 1 minute and 21 secondsSo I don't want to answer. [Steve Kulich] This is an issue too that we deal with in our MBA classes. In our global age where our global businesses now probably bring about a more international style of some directness, even there cultural content has an effect. [CHI Ruobing] Yes. Personally, I prefer this directness at work because it makes me feel more efficient and I have all the things listed in an agenda and finishing one at a time. However, in family life, I would say that sometimes high-context communication do help because it helps us maintain a good relationship.

Skip to 1 minute and 57 seconds[Steve Kulich] And yet our students note that when someone comes in too aggressively, gets off the plane, and wants to go right away to start negotiating the contract, or talking about details of business, many people in Asia would prefer, first, let's have dinner. Let's build some trust. Let's get to know each other and save those details for once the relationship is more established. So we have to be sensitive to these different contexts. [CHI Ruobing] That's true, because there is a gap between those two styles. So one side would say that I would like more efficiency. And the other side is saying, well, there's a lack of hospitality.

Skip to 2 minutes and 32 seconds[Steve Kulich] Maybe you and I have actually crossed the borders trying to be sensitive to cultures, probably because I've been in Asia so long, some people say, well, Steve, you're too Chinese or you're trying to much to accommodate. And I realise that I've in many situations have more implicit respectful style, especially toward leaders or those who have a higher position. [CHI Ruobing] Yeah. And I think I'm the opposite. So because of my training as an English major, I tend to be more direct and I tend to be more straightforward and also more low context. [Steve Kulich] The question that we hope that each of you think about is, what's most appropriate in the styles that you know?

Skip to 3 minutes and 9 secondsWhen and where should those styles best be used? [CHI Ruobing] Mm-hm. And another point I'd like to emphasise is that we actually shift our styles according to different contexts. So don't fix yourself on one. [Steve Kulich] So in teaching this concept, we don't want you to think of either this or that. But a kind of blended style as to noticing the situation around us and when is that the right way? And when should I actually do things according to the standards of my own culture? [CHI Ruobing] Yeah. And we do adjust and evolve. So for example, when I just came back from abroad, I think I'm more low context. But now, I have adjusted back.

Skip to 3 minutes and 48 secondsSo I become more high context. [Steve Kulich] So low context and high context is a very helpful frame for your own analysis of culture. We look forward to hearing your comments about what you're observing.

Adjusting high-low context styles

This dialogue illustrates that high-context and low-context styles are not mutually exclusive. Each has its place and is preferred at different times or with different people, and thus should not designate any individual or culture.

In this video we provide examples of how standards for what is acceptable or embarrassing in communication vary across cultures. These variances often are related to the high and low context concerns of Hall. However, no culture or individual is entirely one or the other. Different situations call for different responses.

Ruobing notes that: Personally I prefer directness at work because it makes me feel more efficient and I have all the things listed in an agenda and finish one in a time. However, in family life, I would say that sometimes high context communication does help because it helps us maintain a good relationship.

Steve notes that: When someone comes in too aggressively, gets off the plane and wants to go right away to start negotiating a contract or talking about details of business, many people in Asia would prefer to first have dinner, build some trust, get to know each other and save those details for once the relationship is more established. So we have to be sensitive to these contexts.

Whether we would prefer directness and efficiency or indirectness and building trust may be reflected in how long we’ve lived in a place or tried to accommodate to the general communicative preference of that context. It can be helpful to be ready to shift styles according to different contexts. So we recommend you don’t fix yourself in only one.

The questions that we hope each learner thinks about are:

  1. What is the most appropriate style or standards of your own culture?
  2. When and where should those styles best be used?
  3. How can you adjust and develop to use appropriate styles in other contexts?

Your own reflections or comments on those made by other learners could be helpful to each of us!

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This video is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)