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How do communication styles vary?

High-context and low-context styles are not mutually exclusive. Each has its place at different times or with different people

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 the video above, we provide examples of how standards for what is acceptable or embarrassing in communication vary across cultures.

These variances are often 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.”

Shifting styles

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.

Questions to think 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?
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Intercultural Communication: Dynamics of cultural identities in global interaction

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