High-Context Vs. Low-Context Communication Styles

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High-Context vs. Low-Context Communication Styles

High-Context vs. Low-Context Communication Styles


Communication is a process of transferring information from one entity to another. Communication processes are sign-mediated interactions between at least two agents which share a repertoire of signs and semiotic rules. Communication is commonly defined as "the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs". Although there is such a thing as one-way communication, communication can be perceived better as a two-way process in which there is an exchange and progression of thoughts, feelings or ideas (energy) towards a mutually accepted goal or direction (information)

Communication is an important part of everyday life and, as such, present at all times. However, its perpetual presence often implies simplicity and mutual understanding. Such forgone conclusions have put businessmen around the world into numerous delicate situations. Many of these situations have provided the basis for, more or less helpful, books on cultural etiquette. After having read various guidebooks on how to behave on a businesstrip to a foreign country, one question still remains: What is the source of cultural misunderstandings? The anthropologists Edward T. Hall and Geert Hofstede conducted most of the research on cultural differences in communication. As it is a vast topic, this seminar paper will focus on the differences in high-context and low-context communication styles across cultures and their influence on the way people perceive information. In order to create a common understanding, the first part of the seminar paper will deal with the definition of used terms. The second part will provide information on the role of culture in communication. At this point, culturally affected areas of communication will be identified. Furthermore, the differences in communication styles, as well as the perception of information across cultures will be described. The last chapter will be dedicated to the main causes for intercultural misunderstandings.

Definition of used terms

In order to create a common understanding of the terms used in this paper, a short definition of each term will be given.


According to Craig Storti (1999, p. 87), “communication…is one of the most common of all human behaviors….” The perpetual presence of communication in everyday life, justifies a deeper look into its actual meaning. What does the term “communication” signify? The authors Nancy Adler (1997, p. 68) and

Robert Gibson (2000, p. 18) both define communication as “the exchange of

meaning”. Contrary to its simple definition, the process of communication is

highly complex, multilayered and dynamic (Adler 1997, p. 68). This is due to the

fact that communication is always dependent on the perception, interpretation

and evaluation of a person's behavior which includes verbal versus non-verbal

as well as consciously versus unconsciously sent messages (Adler 1997, p.

68). In other words, the message sent by the message sender never

corresponds with the message received by the message receiver. However,

this problem and its causes will be looked at in more detail in due course.


Various authors have reflected on the meaning of the term “culture” in the past. Now there are hundreds of definitions. In most cases, culture is described as ...
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