A businessman and businesswoman stand on a deserted island struggling to communicate with each other as sharks swim around them
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Groupthink refers to group pressure and the perception of consensus which together lead to ill-formed decisions—or even unnecessary risks. Learn to identify the warning signs of groupthink and apply countermeasures in this online course.

Critical Thinking: Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is a central business skill, and yet it's the one many people struggle with most. This course will show you how to apply critical thinking techniques to common business examples, avoid misunderstandings, and get at the root of any problem.

Logical Thinking

Logical thinking is at the heart of confident, persuasive decisions. This course will equip you with a five-point approach to more becoming a more logical thinker. Learn to classify ideas and distinguish fact from opinion.

Using Japanese Values to Thrive in Global Business

Japanese companies have unique cultural, communication, and operational challenges. But they also have values that have led to remarkable longevity. Check out this seminar to hear how these values help earn trust from overseas head offices and develop employees.

Conflict Management

Conflicts in the workplace are inevitable. But they can lead to positive outcomes if they’re managed well. Check out this online course for a two-step process that can help you manage conflict successfully.

Do you use high-context communication or low-context communication?

Cross-cultural understanding is often boiled down to customs with obvious differences: Do you shake hands or bow to greet someone in Japan? Use a fork, chopsticks, or your hands to eat in Malaysia? Start a meeting with small talk or get right down to it in Saudi Arabia?

Unfortunately, these simple customs are the tip of the iceberg for effective communication across cultures.

As anyone who’s done business overseas can tell you, communication styles are not universal. When you stand up to give a presentation to a potential overseas client, your success might hinge on how logical vs. emotional that presentation is.

Logical Thinking

Logical thinking is at the heart of confident, persuasive decisions. This course will equip you with a five-point approach to more becoming a more logical thinker. Learn to classify ideas and distinguish fact from opinion.

Or, as anthropologist Edward T. Hall explained it, whether your communication style is appropriately high-context or low-context to suit your audience.

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Black-and-white image of Japanese people riding escalators with strict etiquette to stand on the right side, observing a high-context culture norm

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Quiz Yourself! Communication in Context

Some countries, such as the United States, use a low-context communication style. Others, such as Japan and China, follow a high-context communication style. The difference spans verbal and nonverbal interactions, as well as professional and social settings.

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Not to mention, it can make or break a business deal.

Think you can navigate the murky waters of low-context vs. high-context societies? The below quiz will test your intuition.

Were you able to pick up on the subtleties (or lack thereof) in various communication styles? If not, here are a few notes about high- and low-context cultures that might help you up your game.

Exchanging Information in Low-Context Cultures

Low-context communication is prevalent in many cultures in North America and Europe. They include the US and Canada, as well as many countries in the EU, such as Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and Belgium.

If you’re communicating with people in these countries, they’ll generally expect you to say (or better yet, put in writing) exactly what you mean to say, rather than allude to your point. They want action-based problem-solving, explicitly stated decisions, facts, and logic. The Godfather concept of “It’s not personal; it’s strictly business” makes all the sense in the world.

Low-context cultures covet individualism, so you’ll find opinions and even negative feedback tend to be stated openly.

Tips for Low-Context Communication

For outsiders, low-context cultures can seem cold and aggressive. The ground might feel unsteady without strong, trusted relationships as a foundation.

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Conflicts in the workplace are inevitable. But they can lead to positive outcomes if they’re managed well. Check out this online course for a two-step process that can help you manage conflict successfully.

Here are a few tips for survival amidst low-context communicators:

  • Do your best to speak up. Ask yes/no questions and repeat what was said for confirmation of decisions made.
  • Clearly state impossibilities—avoid ambiguous language like “maybe” or “that could be difficult” if the answer is actually “no.”
  • If you can’t promise next steps in the moment, explain that you need to check with the project lead or another department. Set a deadline for confirmation and stick to it.
Infographic with tips for low-context communication
©GLOBIS

Reading the Air in High-Context Cultures

High-context communication can be found in Asian nations such as Japan and China, the UK, EU countries such as France and Spain, and much of Africa.

For business communication in these countries, you’ll want to focus much more heavily on building strong relationships, respecting formality, and communicating indirectly. Many times, a decision relies heavily on unspoken rules (though verbal messages are preferred over written ones). Body language is also important—you might notice certain universal facial expressions, particularly when the answer is no.

Additionally, the focus is on the group (harmony), rather than the individual (opinions).

Groupthink

Groupthink refers to group pressure and the perception of consensus which together lead to ill-formed decisions—or even unnecessary risks. Learn to identify the warning signs of groupthink and apply countermeasures in this online course.

Tips for High-Context Communication

For low-context communicators, high-context cultures can seem frustratingly mysterious—even sneaky.

But these people are (most likely) not being deliberately evasive. Here are some high-context survival strategies:

  • Pay attention to what is and isn’t being said. “That could be difficult” may sound like there’s still a chance, but in high-context countries like Japan, this is famously a hard “no.” Chasing down a maybe that really means no could waste a lot of time.
  • Read the room. If everyone gets quiet or the body language at a meeting turns defensive as you’re making a point, you’re probably coming off too strong.
  • Ask open-ended questions, which allow for explanation. A firm yes or no can be challenging for high-context communicators to commit to.
Infographic listing tips for high-context communication
©GLOBIS

3 Caveats to Generalizing Culture Characteristics

Understanding whether someone comes from a high-context or low-context culture should be taken as a rough foundation—not a comprehensive playbook for how people communicate.

Here are three important things to keep in mind before you over-generalize:

People are different.

Some of us fit neatly into the “box” of our home culture, but many don’t. Some people have lived or studied abroad and become communication chameleons.

Similarly, not all high- or low-context cultures are the same. Japan and Thailand are both considered high-context cultures. And they’re both in Asia—how different can they be?

In a word, very.

While it’s good to educate yourself on cultural differences, resist the urge to make assumptions based on where people come from.

Language barriers are real.

Working across borders also often means working across languages. High-context communicators can come off strong when they’re translating in their heads. Low-context communicators outside of their linguistic comfort zone might hesitate or hold back.

Patience and cultural empathy go a long way to overcoming language barriers that might otherwise hinder communication.

Smart companies strategize.

In an age of globalization and online learning, businesses are increasingly aware of the power of communication. That means your potential businessperson has probably met people from outside their culture before. They might even already have experience working with your company.

It would also be a smart move for an American company to choose someone with high-context adeptness to handle a Chinese client and vice versa.

Just as you should adapt your communication style to ease barriers, be aware that your counterpart may be doing the same. Active listening, critical thinking, and careful observation are all useful tools to assess what your counterpart responds best to.

Critical Thinking: Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is a central business skill, and yet it's the one many people struggle with most. This course will show you how to apply critical thinking techniques to common business examples, avoid misunderstandings, and get at the root of any problem.

Crossing Cultures Mindfully

Cross-cultural understanding is, in the end, more complex than a simple sliding scale of high-to-low. In fact, the go-to text on cultural communication, Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map, breaks down culture into eight scales.

The best way to survive across communication styles is to prepare yourself as best you can, then remain sensitive to verbal and nonverbal signals. It will get easier as you gain experience.

Once you get into a room together, low-context communication may shift to something softer. Your high-context counterparts might feel more comfortable giving a hard yes or no as they get to know you.

Keep your mind open, and you’ll survive just fine.

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