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10 Traits of High-Context Communicators

High context communication often affect cross-cultural relationships.

Key points

  • High context communication draws on factors including social relationships, formality and non-verbal gestures.
  • High context communication is prevalent for many peoples around the world.
  • Two people may speak the same language, but utilize different communication contexts.
alexander suhorucov/pexels
Source: alexander suhorucov/pexels

High-context communication can be defined as the type of communication where many intricate factors (such as status, social relationships, social environment, formality, non-verbal gesture, silence, symbolism) are taken into consideration in communication. True meaning of high context communication is often far more complex than the literal meaning of the words spoken.

High-context communication often contrasts with low-context communication, which is more direct and specific.

According to cross-cultural researcher Edward Hall, regions in the world where high-context communication is prevalent include (and are not limited to): Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Egypt, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey, and Venezuela.

Although every culture is unique, and communication styles are further distinguished by factors such as language, tradition, and custom, a general understanding of high-context communication can be a starting point for recognizing and navigating cross-cultural differences in romantic and workplace relationships.

Here are ten common signs of high-context communicators, with references from my book How to Bridge Cultural Communication Differences: East and West:

1. High-context communicators tend to "read between the lines.” It is a form of spherical communication, which talks around, rather than, to the point.

2. High-context communication often begins with details, and eventually works its way to the main point in the end, if the main point is mentioned at all.

3. High-context communicators often hint or imply, and expect to be understood. High-context communication is commonly filled with symbolism and metaphors. Actions and behaviors often convey messages in place of words.

4. High-context communication is often geared towards the inter-relationship and harmonization of ideas. Ideas are inter-connected, instead of stand-alone.

5. High-context communicators have a tendency to handle problems, conflicts, and criticism indirectly. They prefer to resolve issues by using more indirect methods, such as going behind the scenes, or using an intermediary. Face saving and avoidance of public humiliation are important.

6. High-context communication tends to offer praise to groups over individuals. Group achievement and credit are typically reflected on each of its individuals.

7. High-context communicators tend to expect to be noticed for their hard work, sacrifice, and achievement, without ever having to verbalize themselves. They may presume, “If I work really hard and sacrifice, then I should get noticed and recognized. I don’t need to say anything.”

8. In high-context communication cultures, agreements are often forged upon based on a handshake, and are more fluid in nature. Agreements are often made and kept through trust, loyalty and respect toward the relationship. Personal and professional relationships tend to emphasize long-term commitments.

9. In high-context communication, silence is highly valued. Silence is
rich in meaning. Depending on the situation, silence can be used to convey disapproval or approval, power, authority, dignity, shame, embarrassment, or resistance.

10. A high-context communicator can sometimes find it uncomfortable and tiring when speaking with a low context communicator, as it requires too much verbal specificity, and issues have to be spelled out too bluntly.

For more tips on how to successfully navigate cross-cultural communication situations, see references below.

© 2022 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.

References

Ni, Preston. How to Bridge Cultural Communication Differences: East and West. PNCC. (2014).

Ni, Preston. How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People — 2nd Edition. PNCC. (2006)

Hall, Edward T. Beyond Culture. Doubleday. (1989).

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