4.10: Definition of Communication

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Communication

Context

1. Definition

Low context
Information is given primarily in words; meaning is expressed explicitly.

High context
Information is transmitted not just in words but also through a variety of contexts, such as voice tone, body language, facial expressions, eye contact, speech patterns, use of silence, past interactions, status, common friends, etc. The message in communication is more implicit.

2. Implications

Low context
– Message carried more by words than non-verbal signals.
– Communications are direct and seen as a means of exchanging information.
– Conflicts are depersonalized and work can proceed despite disagreement.
– Business relationships start and end more quickly and depend less on personal trust between individuals.
– One’s identity is more rooted in oneself and one’s accomplishments.
– Thought patterns are more compartmentalized and inductive.
– Specific instructions are given and information flows along formal lines of hierarchy.

High context
– High use of non-verbal signals.
– Communications are indirect and seen as an art form.
– Conflict must be resolved before work can progress.
– Business relationships depend on trust and build slowly.
– One’s identity is rooted more in groups.
– Thought patterns are holistic and deductive.
– Few rules are given and information is accessed through informal networks.

Formality

Formality shows how important it is to follow rules for self-presentation and for behavior in organizations and social situations.

1. Definition

Formal
Importance is given to following protocol and social customs.

Informal
People feel more comfortable doing business in a more casual way without lots of rituals and ceremonies.

2. Implications

Formal
– Tend to have a strong sense of history, culture and tradition.
– More mindful of the past.
– More conscious of class or hierarchy; stronger sense of social position.
– Pay more attention to observing protocol regarding rank and hierarchy.
– Greater respect for rules; rules are made to be observed and preserved.
– Visitors should follow the rules to show sincerity and seriousness when engaging in social activities.
– Trust in business is based more on social acceptance and relationships.
– There are customs and rituals regarding appropriate dress, greetings, business card exchange, forms of address, scheduling and conducting meetings, communication styles (verbal and non-verbal), eating and drinking, entertaining and gift-giving.
– Relationships take longer to form, but once formed they are deeper and more permanent.

Informal
– Don’t tend to have a strong sense of tradition or historical continuity.
– Have a high regard for change; progress is more important than tradition.
– Casual, relaxed and friendly when doing business.
– Uncomfortable with complex hierarchies and power differences.
– More direct and open communication style.
– More emphasis on following schedules and deadlines than on image, status or relationships.
– Forming good relationships is not necessity when doing business.
– Informal and easy-going attitude towards all aspects of business and socializing.

Direct versus Indirect cultures

1. Definition

Direct cultures
Value open handling and resolution of conflict and tension. Conflict can be handled top-down (one-way) or top-down and bottom-up (two-way).

Indirect cultures
Value conflict avoidance and are careful not to bring contentious issues out into the open especially when the relationship is not well-established.

2. Implications

Direct cultures
– Tend to view conflict, tension and frank feedback as constructive and important.
– Conflict is handled through discussion, debate or negotiation.
– Appreciate honesty and trustworthiness.

Indirect cultures
– Avoid giving the impression of disrespect or causing embarrassment.
– Preserve honor and dignity and avoid shame (or loss of face).
– Higher tolerance for ambiguity.

Expressive / Instrumental

Cultures have general rules as to what extent it is allowed to express feelings. The following scale gives a rough indication on how far apart some cultures are in this respect. Emotions are, however, predominantly expressed by non-verbal behavior. This may create the unconscious perception of having rapport when this is not the case. For instance, Americans and Italians are quite close in their emotionality, but the way the Italians deal with time drives the Americans crazy and disconnects rapport.

Remember: We are dealing with mixed patterns more and more, because the French person you meet may have studied in Germany and married an Italian while working for a global company. No paradigm may fit and all our expectations may be mismatched… You need to be flexible and listen to the person!

Activity
Where would you position your culture on each of the four spectra? Do you know where to position other cultures? How could you find out where other cultures are positioned? (Keep in mind that these determinations are generalizations, there are significant variations within cultures based on subcultures, countercultures and divergent individual preferences.)

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< Back to 4.9
Definition of Action
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Definition of Space