Hall’s high and low context culture

According to Hall, the purpose of the context is to provide additional information to support the process of encoding the meaning of the information. This process helps to understand the relationships and culture within the organization. Hall also discovered that the contracts and other written agreements vary based on the culture of the business environment. For example, French contracts tend to be shorter and restricted to bullet points, while the missing points are covered by the French high-contrast culture. In America, on the other hand, contracts are longer, suggesting a low-context culture. Hall states that “The cultures of the world can be compared on a scale from high to low context”.  The author also concludes that the more mobile the business environment is, the lower is the context culture. The more organized and stable the population is, the higher the context culture will become. The conflict arises when people from low context cultures enter a high context culture, especially in the business environment. The author examines eight different dimensions of the culture, and based on that, there are different characteristics assigned to high and low context cultures. These are:

  • overtness of messages
  • attribution for failure and locus of control
  • non-verbal communication usage
  • expression of reaction
  • bonds between people
  • commitment/relationship levels
  • time flexibility

High context cultures

High context culture is based on existing knowledge of the situation, relations, and other context. People should know where they are, what their job and role is, and how are they related to the rest of the organization. There are different characteristics of high context culture, like the usage of non-verbal communication, the strength of culture, its influence etc.

The high context culture is full of metaphors and implicit messages. The acceptance of failure is high, while the importance of non-verbal communication is also significant as it is mostly based on previously agreed signs and customs. The reactions are mostly reserved and inward, and the bonds between people and members of the community are strong. The flexibility and openness of time is one of the most important features of the model. The process itself is more important than the end result or product.

In high context cultures, the explicit part of the message is limited. Still, communication is based on internalized understandings and values, as well as customs. Therefore, the boundaries of the culture are stronger, and belonging or being an outsider is determined by the community’s knowledge about their attitude, values and behavioral patterns. The importance of face-to-face relationship is higher than in low context cultures; therefore, these interactions replace well outlined written contracts. Authority is often determined by the relationship and behavior, not titles or ranks. The common understanding and acceptance of authority and norms are present within these cultures. Communication might be clear for the members of the community, based on their existing knowledge, but misleading for an outsider, who does not know the background information needed to encode the messages.

Low context cultures

Some authors summarize the meaning of low context culture as being straightforward with communication methods having only one meaning. This is true, as Hall highlights the fact that non-verbal communication is less frequent in low context cultures.

Low context cultures are based on written rules, and these rules are external, not based on a common understanding, culture, or agreement. Knowledge is more transferable, coded, and public. The accessibility of knowledge (just like in the United States) is high. With regards to time management, the schedules are kept, and time sequencing is present. The separation of space, based on social or business standings, is a common feature. Relationships are determined by contracts and written rules. Compared to high context cultures, the number of interpersonal communications is higher; however, the duration of meetings is shorter. The communication is restricted to formalities, confirmation, and instructions. Knowledge is less often transferred personally in order to ensure uniformity and avoid misunderstandings. In business cultures, the description of work, task, and role is clearly put in writing.

Low context cultures are centered around tasks with a focus on end results. The assignment of responsibilities is usually completed in writing, and different divisions have separate tasks to complete within the organization. Low context cultures within the business environment focus on short-term tasks and relationships. Tasks have a higher importance than relationships. Low context cultures are easier to enter as everything is explicit and outlined clearly. There is no extra background knowledge needed to understand messages. Still, the sense of loyalty within the business cultures is lower, while the visibility is higher. This low context culture focuses on verbal messages and does not think that non-verbal communication has significance in business communication. The locus of control comes from outside; therefore, failure is not accepted, and people blame others for it.

Hofstede’s value dimensions (6 pages, 7 different sources)

Hofstede surveyed more than 100.000 IBM employees to measure the differences in the business culture and value dimensions. The participants of the survey were from over 50 countries. The aim of the research was to highlight the cultural differences between nations and societies. The initial study identified four dimensions, while later, the author added a fifth one. The final value dimensions determined by Hofstede are:

- power distance

- individualism

- masculinity – femininity

- uncertainty avoidance

- short- or long-term orientation

The author, therefore, has placed different cultures/countries on the dimension of culture scales, based on their five indexes. The total number of countries examined in the 2008 research is 74, while the fifth dimension of values (short- or long-term orientation) is only available for 23 of the researched countries. The value dimensions created by Hofstede are the basis of all research and theories regarding business cultures today. The author repeated the study almost 30 years later to measure the significance of the national differences and cultures in the business environment. Due to the globalization and the growing number of multinational companies with their own business culture, it was necessary to review the results gained in the 1970-s. One of the main messages of the study is that culture has a high impact on the individual behavior of employees and members of a business community.

Individualism vs. collectivism

Individualism is measured by the IDV index. According to Hofstede “individualism pertains to societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her immediate family. The higher this score is, the more accepting and liberal the society is. The rights of the individual are respected. However, if this index is low, that indicates that the society has a collectivist nature, therefore, grouping is determined by rules and is never free. …people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.” In the United States, the IDV index is 91, indicating more personal freedom and an individualist society. Compared to the world average of 41, this also shows acceptance and liberalism. On the other hand, Muslim countries, for example, Pakistan (14), have a very low IDV score. Such statistics shows us that the stronger the cultural and religious traditions are, the lower this index tends to be.

Some of the main findings of the study reveal that there was a close relationship between the wealth of the nation and the level of individualism, climate and geography, and IDV scores, as well as birth rates and history. Japan was examined by the author in detail, and the interesting fact is that the country ranked in the middle among all the countries regarding individualism/collectivism. The author suggests that the group-oriented culture of Japan and the homogeneity of the country are the main reasons for the balanced results. The formalities had a large importance in the Japanese society, and hierarchies were well determined within the business environment. The cultural continuity and lack of outside influence, until the past few centuries, have contributed towards the strong cultural influence of the business life. By ethnic background, the country’s 95 percent is Japanese, which confirms the homogeneity theory. Still, religion today has a lower importance in the society; therefore, this compensates the IDV index results.

Power Distance

Power distance is measured by the PDI index, and it indicates “the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally”. The hierarchies are determined by the structure of the society, and, therefore, the more hierarchies exist within the state or religion, the higher the power distance index will be. This would also be a sign of great inequalities in the economical and political power and the acceptance of this situation by members of the society with less power. It is evident that democratic countries would have a lower power distance score. The author concludes that power distance is learned at an early age during the socialization process. The expectations of behavior and the norms set by the community would determine the score. Within the business environment, the higher the power distance is, the more hierarchical and unequal the organization would be.

It is, therefore, evident that the high power distance company would have a hierarchical and centralized structure, where there is a limited communication and two way feedback system between people on different levels. The highest ranking country within the study is Malaysia, while the lowest PDI scores are associated with Austria, Israel and Denmark. The research covered the salary differences between different positions, and found that there is a trend that indicates the increase of PDI within the United States. The large differences between the compensation of CEO's and average workers indicate a large scale of inequality. Compared to the United States, where CEO-s earned 85 times the salary of an average worker, this rate in Japan was only 8 times higher. The author also found that higher geographical latitudes are responsible for lower scores, and the larger the population is, the higher the PDI would be. The larger the national wealth is, the lower the power distance was while cultures with Romance language have a high to medium score. This is based on the historical traditions, when there was a single ruler leading the country, and authority was strong.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty avoidance is measured by the UAI index and indicates the tolerance level towards uncertainty and ambiguity within the community. The higher the score is, the more rule-oriented the society would be. Controls and laws are created to avoid uncertainty, and this requires a strict regulation and well outlined rules. The tolerance level in these societies is very low. The low UAI index indicates a more accepting and tolerant, democratic community, which is not rule-oriented and can accept changes. The flexibility of these countries or communities is higher. People are ready to take more risks.

Countries that have a high UAI score are usually compulsive, seeking certainty, intolerant, and active. Communities with a low score are relaxed, relatively tolerant, and less aggressive, as well as less emotional. According to Hofstede, religion and history determine the score the most. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox countries score high, while Muslim and Judaic countries are ranked in the middle of the scale. Countries with protestant religion, being significant, have a lower UAI score. Countries with the traditions of Roman codified law have high uncertainty avoidance due to the strict regulation and definitions inherited from the Roman culture. The Confucian tradition’s presence in the history indicates a lower score.

Not surprisingly, Great Britain and the United States have low UAI scores, as well as Hing Kong and Sweden, while Greece and Portugal are on the first two places of the ranking table. The score also determines the flexibility of the society and its tendencies for change. Dynamic societies are more bound to change the rules and accept changes, while the over-regulated and over-secured systems would be taking fewer risks.

Masculinity vs. Femininity

In order to understand the concept of measuring masculinity and femininity in the society, it is necessary to review the main values and behavioral patterns associated with both of them. According to Hofstede, the masculinity values are competitiveness and acquisition of wealth, while the femininity patterns are building relationship, quality of life, and acceptance. When reviewing different societies, it is evident that high masculinity (MAS) score countries would be more aggressive, and the behavioral patterns associated with masculine personalities will dominate, while if the score is low, the feminine characteristics will be more significant. There are several important conclusions published by the author, which need to be mentioned below. First, Hofstede found that feminine roles differ less from one society to another than masculine ones.

Masculine societies would be more aggressive, competitive, and materialistic. Female societies would be more flexible regarding to the roles of sexes. The influence of feminine traits would create a society that is nurturing and caring, would like to focus on the quality of life instead of material wealth.

The main findings of the analysis are that feminine cultures are bound to develop in colder regions, while the family size can be influenced by females. This decision is made solely by the man in masculine societies. Japan scored highest on the MAS scale, while the least masculine societies were in Norway and Sweden. One of the main characteristics of the feminine cultures and, therefore, the politics is that the state or leaders care about the weak and would like to protect those needing protection. Masculine cultures are more male-oriented, are looking for measurable results, wealth creation, and protect those who are worthy of protection. This is why, some people say that, in those countries, the wealthy are becoming wealthier, and the poor are becoming poorer gradually. The social net is more significant in female societies.

Long Term Orientation

Long term orientation was only measured in 23 countries. Previously called the “Confucian dynamism”, it determines whether the long term devotions and traditions are embraced by the society or not. The index also shows whether people expect short-term results for their hard work or are looking to put in an effort for higher long-term rewards.

It is important to note that China has scored 118 on the scale, indicating the high influence of the culture and tradition, which is in line with the historical background of the country. Hong Kong also scored 96, while western civilizations like Canada and Australia, mainly having immigrant population and a high diversity of cultures, scored much lower. The more ethnically diverse the population was, the lower the score was. The presence of immigrants and different cultures also reduced the scores. The more ideological the country was, (i.e. Religion, customs, and tradition) the higher the score was. This is a result of people having a common goal and a sense of higher than personal interest: a feeling of belonging to a community.

Trompenaars' Dimensions

Trompenaar determines seven dimensions of culture. It is important to note that these dimensions are based on the similar analysis of the society as Hall and Hofstede used. These dimensions are:

- universalism vs. particularism

- individualism vs. collectivism

- specific vs. diffuse cultures

- neutral vs. affective cultures

- achievement vs. ascription

- time perspective of cultures

- internal vs. external control

The author focused his research on the multicultural communication and intercourse; therefore, its practical values are undeniable. The suggestions included in the book are providing negotiation and strategic models for business leaders.

Universalism vs. Particularism

This measurement indicates the importance of rules and their application. Policies, laws, and rules are present in universalism, and these apply to every member of the community. Particularism takes into consideration personal and social circumstances. While the rules of universalism apply to everyone. Like in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, in some countries, there are additional variables taken into consideration, when creating rules. The situation and people involved determine the outcome, and this system is present in Korea, Indonesia, and China. Therefore, this measurement determines whether rules or individuals/relationships are more important within the society.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

The functioning of the individual might be based on their own rules or they can act as a part of a group. People who are looking to differentiate themselves from the rest are individualists, while collectivist is the determination of the individual being a part of a larger group. Therefore, in collectivism, the interest of the group is ahead of the interest of the individual. The most relevant countries where individualism is present are Mexico, Argentina, and Nigeria, as well as the United States. The stronger the feeling of belonging within the community is, the higher the level of collectivism will be. Countries like Singapore, Japan, and Thailand focus on welfare and achievement of groups, instead of individuals. An example of individualistic business approach is bonus schemes based on individual performance, appraisal systems, and assessments. In many cultures with a collectivist approach, it is very hard to introduce these systems. In individualism, “I” is used frequently in the communication, while in collectivism, “We” is more common.

Specific vs. Diffuse Cultures

The above measurement indicates the integration level of the society. People with different roles might be integrated or compartmentalized. Specific cultures are the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States, where various roles of a person are identified individually. Diffuse systems integrate various roles, such as in China, Spain, Japan, and Mexico. This indicates that in specific cultures, job descriptions are more detailed and specific, while in diffuse ones, they have a greater flexibility and interaction with each other. Neutral vs. Affective Cultures

The above dimension measures how freely people are allowed to express their emotions or feelings in public. This is truly a cultural dimension, and it is evident that in Japan, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, where society avoids these types of remarks, the culture is neutral. In other countries, emotional expressions are accepted, even in the business culture, such as in Italy, Mexico, and Brazil. Displaying emotions has an impact on the communication methods and negotiation tactics; therefore, it is crucial that leaders study the other country’s cultural dimensions.

Achievement vs. Ascription

The dimension determines the granting of a social status. It might be based on individual or family achievement, or inheritance. The latter is based on the feudal model, which has been largely replaced by a democratic approach in Europe during the French revolution. Equality and giving every individual the same chances in life is one of the major achievements of democracy; therefore, achievement-based cultures include the US and the UK, as well as Germany. In societies, where there is still a great importance to the inherited status, this democratic feature is not present. Examples of affective societies are Egypt, Indonesia, and Korea. In these societies, the extensive use of titles and ranks, as well as job titles is important, and the senior management of the company is usually male, middle-aged, and related to the leadership.

Time perspective

The author determines two types of cultures: past-, present-, and future-oriented. Some countries focus on their past glory, just like Spain, Arab countries, and France. These countries lost their authority through the history and are reaching back to their past culture, achievements, and build on them ideologically. However, future-oriented cultures often started small and built a significant success through careful planning and development. These are Japan, Korea, and the United States. The business culture is based on building on future possibilities and reaching out for opportunities, not being afraid of challenges and changes.

Internal vs. External Control – Relationship With Environment

Controlling the environment is a belief of many countries. However, some of them believe that they are controlled by the environment. This attitude determines business decisions, assertiveness, selfishness, and green policies. The inner-directed countries (and businesses) focus on controlling the environment, just like Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. In these countries, the good of the population and the short term benefits are more important than environmental protection. In some other civilizations, such as in Sweden, Egypt, and Korea, the respect for nature and environment results in living in harmony and reducing the level of intervention into different natural processes.  

Deal/ Task Oriented vs. Relationship Oriented Culture

Laurent builds his theory on the dimension of individualism/collectivism. Task-oriented cultures are focusing on the function, while relationship-oriented ones consider people involved and the specific circumstances. Therefore, it can be stated that relationship-oriented cultures are more flexible and less defined. There would be fewer universal rules and policies.

Task-Oriented Cultures Specification

Task-oriented cultures and communities focus on achievements and goals. Therefore, they are concerned about production. Leaders are hard persuaders and distanced from followers emotionally. The task-oriented culture is dynamic and flexible, adaptive and hard to manage, as the individual differences and characteristics of situations are not taken into consideration. The design of the model is suitable for adapting rapid changes, while the knowledge is interchangeable and easy to transfer.

Task-oriented cultures are built around projects and tasks, not people. They benefit from the power of knowledge and expertise while commitment to tasks is more important than commitment to people, colleagues, or organizations. The management of the organization is carried out based on business objectives, and the motivation of people is based on a pay per performance model. German companies are highly task-oriented; therefore, there are fewer meetings and more written instructions and statistics published. The business objectives are communicated, and the breakdown of the tasks is highly visible. Therefore, all employees are assigned targets, goals, and specific tasks, based on their roles and not their abilities/preferences. Some Swiss and German companies look at relationships as boundaries of completing the task, and in order to remain professional, they avoid socialization and personal involvement. This approach is formalized and rational. In America, the ignorance of the social side of business is evident, therefore, the lack of “soft skills” in management can create fraction. A task-oriented manager would first ask: “what do you do?”, and determine the individual by his results, job, achievement to target, and role within the organization. The manager would go “straight to business” and look at the numbers/statistics only. They would not be interested in personal preferences, goals, or family background. French, for example, never talk about work when they go out after finishing their shift, while Americans talk mostly about work. They feel like they are a part of the big picture and often build relationships.

Relationship-Oriented Cultures Specification

Relationship-oriented cultures place more importance on cultivating relationships than completing the tasks themselves. Some researchers find that this is not an effective approach; however, “soft skills” are needed today to improve loyalty, keep talent, and identify personal values for further development. Failing to identify talent would result in losing a valuable worker, and another company, possibly the competitor, would benefit from this lack of relationship-building. Although targets and goals, just like business objectives, are important for businesses, they should focus on long term benefits, as well as increasing the reputation of the company. For example, setting up an individual development plan for an employee having difficulty with one particular task and being perfect at other tasks would benefit the company. The extra training provided would enable members to increase their value for the company, while the investment would be negotiable, compared to training a new worker for all the tasks. Relationship-oriented managers and organizations define people based on who they are and not based on what they do for the business. This method would allow managers to identify the right motivation methods for each individual employee, and, therefore, they discuss the weaknesses and support areas of the employee on the regular appraisal meetings.  Relationship-oriented cultures include Latin-America, the Middle-East, and Southern Europe. People, generally, take more time to get to know teammates and colleagues.

Interaction Between Task-Oriented and Relationship-Oriented People

When people from relationship-oriented cultures join a task-oriented team, they might feel neglected, rushed, and distrustful. They feel insecure as they are unable to communicate freely on a personal level, and these results in a high level of frustration. On the other hand, task-oriented members, who just “want to get the work done”, feel like they are wasting time with building a team and getting to know each other and find the efforts of relationship-oriented managers useless.

Trust builds faster in relationship-oriented teams; however, it is important to note that the leader is not able to influence the personal preferences of team members. Therefore, the organizational culture needs to clearly communicate the levels and methods of communication, so all employees would be able to accept the general guidelines. Employee relationship management and building organizational culture need a relationship-oriented approach, while task-oriented cultures need to be implemented at the same time.

Chronemics

Chronemics deals with the task of structuring time, and Hall built a second concept around time management. The two cultures defined are monochronic and polychronic. Still, the system has been criticized by Dahl, stating that it lacks empirical data. There are different dimensions determined by the author, as well as Dahl, who summarized the patterns. The monochronic time management system focuses on one task at a time, while the polychronic is based on multi-tasking. There are some cultures where polychronic (P-time) system is a part of the tradition, while others prefer monochronic system in everyday life (M-time).

P-time cultures, like Africa and South America, are concerned about immediate tasks and emergencies, completely ignoring planning and structure. They are able to complete different tasks simultaneously. M-time countries are Northern European nations and North America. The importance of time-keeping, schedules, list of tasks, assigned time, and deadlines is more important in these cultures. They use cell-phones, diaries, and computer programs to set alerts and schedule their times. On the other hand, monochronic people are usually low-context oriented, and polychronic people are high-context. Generally speaking, western cultures can be more monochronic or polychronic, For example, the French are handling time more freely than Norwegians or Germans. Aboriginal Americans have the cultural tendency of being polychronic.

Monochronic Model

Monochronic time has a fixed schedule and individuals work by deadlines. They are never late from meetings. The disadvantage of the M-time is that it is not at all flexible and is unable to deal with changes effectively. The model focuses on one task at a time, therefore, is not suitable for businesses where processes are not predicted or planned accordingly. The M-time model is long term oriented, therefore, considers the different processes broken down to individual tasks. Many managers in the Western culture prefer this approach to be able to deal with time-keeping and avoid procrastination. People using the M-time are usually feeling more control over the events and are working towards goals and targets. The task is assigned a specific time for completion, and this is one of the most discussed motivational tools, as it uses the sense of urgency. Monochronic people divide their work day into segments (hours, minutes, or seconds) and aim to complete the task within the timescale. Still, because of the inflexibility of the system, the whole schedule needs to be changed if the unexpected happens.

Most of the monochronic people would have lists of tasks, goals, time-keeping tools, and spreadsheets, as well as target sheets. They never move to another task until the previous is finished, and this can create various problems. The system only works if the individual can eliminate sources of distraction and is able to determine the right time frame for every task. This would require initial knowledge of the task and process. In some cases, when people are paid per production, the management determines the targets per hour or working day. This target would be unable to take into consideration individual differences and abilities; therefore, some workers would end up working harder than others, due to their different level of expertise. While M-time management considers switching from one task to another distracting. This might be necessary in some cases. For example, if a manager is working on the monthly reports and has given himself three hours, he might get a phone call from the other office to help them out. This would be an emergency, and the whole daily schedule would need to be reconstructed because of the inflexibility of the system.

Time management is an important topic of business books and self-help publications today; however, the person’s individual preferences need to be taken into consideration before selecting the M-time. As some people would become frustrated by not being able to complete the task in time, some flexibility might have to be added to the schedule. The monochronic model only works if there are no distractions. Breaks and personal times are scheduled.

Polychronic Model

The polychronic model values human interaction over time, therefore, multi-tasking is preferred. People would like to get things done in their own time comfortably and would not like to restrict themselves by the time. A great example is the American aboriginals. The attention is distributed throughout various tasks and based on the individual requirements of attention, the level changes. There are more chances for making a mistake; however, for some low-attainment jobs, this would be a great approach. People using the P-time model claim that they do not find their job monotonous; they find more joy in working and having business meetings.

The schedule is subordinated to the interpersonal communication, according to Dahl. Appointments and times are flexible. Meetings are often not scheduled for a certain time, and a manager might tell the employee to visit him on the day when he has time. Personal times are flexible and often not planned. Time is fluid and flexible; therefore, if the P-time person finds another task that is more urgent, he would immediately switch from what he is working on or do two activities simultaneously. One of the main disadvantages of the P-time model is that personal and work times are not clearly separated. This is one of the main problems of today’s managers. If breaks are not scheduled, employees might just forget to log out of the social networking site losing the company working hours. However, in case of self employed and motivated individuals, the approach might add extra freedom to the working day.

The activities are not measured on an individual basis in the case of the polychronic model, therefore, what really matters is getting the job done, and as soon as this is completed, there is no confrontation. Entrepreneurs use the P-time model as they are directly motivated by the results. They know that if they complete the task in an hour, they would have a higher hourly rate than if it takes them a full day. Still, the most common approach is the combination of the two models; keeping scheduled appointments and breaking down the rest of the time according to the demand or schedule created.

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