Cross- Cultural Engagement: High Context vs. Low Context Communication

High vs. Low Context

Context, while a crucial building block of every culture, is an aspect of culture and communication that is below the surface so much so that those in the culture may not be consciously aware of the subtleties at work. James Plueddemann (2009) in Leading Across Cultures, states “probably the most fundamental difference between people and cultures is the degree of sensitivity to what is happening around them- their context. Some cultures encourage people to tune in closely to innuendoes of meaning occurring all around them… Other cultures predispose people to be divorced from their physical context.”[1] Guatemala is a high context culture, and the United States is a low context culture. GlobeSmart provides an explanation of contrast, Guatemalans communicate with an assumption of shared understanding amongst those in the culture and the United States communicates with a low context, because of the lack of shared understanding that results from the diverse, changing, and geographically mobile population.[2] Context is directly tied to whether a culture used a direct or indirect communication style and if not recognized can lead to cross-cultural misunderstandings.

[1] Plueddemann. Leading Across Cultures: Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church. Madison, WI: IVP Academic, 2009, kindle 716-718.

[2] GlobeSmart, http://www.aperianglobal.com/web/globesmart/, “Communication Styles”

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