Story // 26.10.2022

Why culture is important in communication
High versus low context communication

SEKISUI is a Japanese company with multiple entities all over the world. Many SEKISUI companies have culturally diverse teams which makes culture play an important role in the communication between employees. This article will shed light on the difference between high and low context communication in reference to Japanese and European cultures. 

Culture’s role in communication 
Culture and communication are strongly linked with each other. Japan is known to have a more collectivist culture which is characterized by prioritizing group solidarity over individual goals. Europe, on the other hand, is known to have a more individualistic culture that stresses individual needs over the needs of the group. Thus, the connection between culture and communication is important to highlight, as culture shapes the way we communicate with one another. 

Context vs. content 
In terms of communication, collectivist cultures focus more on the context than on the content of the communication. This means that in addition to the actual words, aspects such as tone of voice, body language, facial expressions and other aspects of communication are taken into consideration when communicating. Communicating in a way that is implicit and relies on context is called high-context communication.  

In comparison, low-context communication focuses on the content itself (what is actually said) and stands for an explicit communication with little left to inference. The addressee is likely to understand the information even if unfamiliar with the cultural context. Low-context communication is more common in individualistic societies.  

Countries with high-context communication are, for example, Japan, China and Arab countries. Germany, the Netherlands and North America are examples for countries with low-context communication. Looking at SEKISUI in Europe, employees from various countries using both styles of communication work together and it is important to know about the differences to avoid misunderstandings. 

Knowledge is key in multinational communication

Examples of high- and low-context communication 
You may have asked your Japanese colleagues if everything is alright and they answered “yes”, with a strange smile on their face. You can be sure that there is something wrong. Our suggestion: Do not take Japanese phrases literally and try to read the non-verbal cues to understand the situation better. If you are from a low-context culture dealing with high-context culture, try to “read the air” and pay attention to the non-verbal aspects.  

On the other hand, if you are from a high-context culture and talk to someone from a low-context culture, keep in mind that they are used to direct communication. Expecting your colleague to pick up your hints might lead to misunderstandings or false expectations. Therefore be on point, convey your intentions properly rather than being polite and explain logically and concretely.