The most important variable that enables mankind achieve beyond their imagination is communication. Communication is however only enabled through understanding different cultures and only then will we be able diversify and achieve greatness. This helps individuals resolve the numerous crises facing the planet since we understand different ways of thinking through culture. The book Beyond Culture by Edward T. Hall explains the different ways to improve interaction in different cultures. The book also discusses the problems that could be experienced when interacting with different cultures and the guided pathways in achieving the goal of breaking cultural barriers. In addition, he discusses stereotypes as well as cultural behaviors that determine attitude as well as behaviors that are ingrained in the subconscious. This book is very essential due to the necessity in today’s contemporary society as we interact with different cultures in work, school and other areas of life. This paper will therefore discuss the different concepts that facilitate communication between people of different cultures.
Hall is acknowledged all over the world for developing the context in culture known as high context and low context. High context culture is characterized by numerous components that are involved when people are trying to understand a different culture therefore missing out or ignoring many elements. This is necessarily relevant for people who try to understand a different culture without first understanding the unwritten rules of a certain culture. Contrary to high context, low context is the very little details that are taken for granted by people trying to understand different cultures. This occurs when many explanations are required when trying to grasp certain aspects of a culture. As a result, even though many explanations may be offered, little might be left out or forgotten.
Context often vary due to different environments. A more versatile and dynamic environment often have low context culture while an environment with a more subtle and dormant population are characterized by high context culture. For example, the French and American environments are very different since the population movement is very different. As a result, a contract being drafted in France would be short in length since most of the information would be ignored as obvious since it is in the high context. On the other hand, the American content would be very lengthy as it is low context culture.
There are many more differences that occur due to difference in context in unalike cultures in their various aspects of life. First, in the high context culture, there are numerous no-verbal communication cues while in the other there are very few and also little body language. While expressing reactions, the low context depict a more visible external reaction compared to their counterparts. In addition, individuals in the high context form stronger bonds due to the tight ties in family and community compared to the low context communities. Relationships in the high context communities are long lasting and regarded with more importance compared with the relationships in the low context communities. In conclusion, these two contexts determine the kind of population in a community and the approach an alien should approach while attempting to understand various cultures in order to better communicate.
Time is handled very differently in various cultures depending on the type of community they are. In the more advanced communities like western countries, time is valued and handled with delicate planning. In contrast, the less advances areas harbor communities who value human interaction as compared to time. Hall developed identities for these contrasting time management differences. They are the manochronic and the polychronic time. The monochromic are the western communities who value time as well as religiously organize their activities while the more relaxed communities that may attend to various activities at the same time are the polychronic.
After vigorous research and comparison, Hall established that polychronic time was characteristic to the low context communities. They are very aware of time used on less important matters like long social meetings and have developed many disciplines that aim to teach their members utilize time more efficient like time management. They also portray a particular orderliness when attending to various chores and are often appropriate in in matters concerning punctuality. Due to their low context culture, they are very hesitant to borrowing and lending friends and family members and have a very high regard to personal property.
The polychronic cultures on the other hand tend to have lesser concern to getting things done and more concern to dedicating their time to their personal fulfillment. They also have a very high threshold for concentrating indifferent things at the same time. For example, an executive in a polychronic culture would be very comfortable in an office that has a phone ringing while a meeting is progressing as well as the office door being wide open. They handle interactions quite well and show willingness while asked to change their schedule at a moment’s notice. They also regard personal relationships with more importance and seriousness as compared to their monochronic counterparts. A good example is Spaniards who have three hour siestas in the afternoon and very relaxed time management skills. Arabian, Latinos, as well as Africans have similar cultures.
Hall noticed that in the differing communities that he visited matters of space and personal proximities between the members of a community differed in cultures. Different cultures have different rules regarding personal spaces otherwise known as proxemics. Space issues are notably highly discussed topics in offices, parking spaces, and domestic locations. He also documented that spaces were highly related to time contexts in various cultures.
While some communities are comfortable occupying small spaces with little distance to another individual, others feel threatened if a big number of people crotch towards one location. Space is considered as a form of mobile territory and different people need different distances from others depending on their culture. A good comparison is between America and Japan. The Japanese are comfortable with small spaces and as a result have occupied their location with fine arrangement. Americans to the contrary are used to large spaces in their homes, offices, cars as well as other areas in their lives. As a result, very different reactions will be portrayed if the same individual stood at a close proximity to an American and Japanese. These are described as high territoriality and low territoriality.
In cultures of high territoriality, individuals often have a great concern to ownership. This means that they are very obsessed with boundaries and often engage in boundary wars. This not only is characteristic with actual land, but also personal spaces in locker rooms, desks, other incidences that others would consider minor. As a result, security becomes a very crucial matter in this type of a society. Many wars in history have been fought due to material spaces and territories. These cultures are also often low context societies.
Low territoriality has lower regard to ownership. Boundaries and spaces are of the lowest concern. Tribes like the Australian Aboriginal say that they belong to the land rather than claiming ownership to it. Due to this relaxed mentality, there are very few cases of theft since ownership is much more relaxed. Naturally, most of these communities are high context cultures.
When individuals strive to understand different cultures, they should thoughtfully analyze the of culture depending on their activities. They should analyze their cultural expectations before spelling judgment due to different behaviors. For example, an executive might be late for an important meeting and immediately be labeled as lazy and inconsiderate while it is very normal and expected in their local setting to be late for meetings. When an individual understands the kind of culture that they are trying to interpret or understand, they will immediately behave like them therefore gaining trust and stature which will aid in their communication. While people may ignore these rather obvious concepts of culture, they are key to communication and understanding between a local and an alien in a certain setting. The learning process and practices govern relationships and logic in these places. These concepts determine communication between different people that belong to different cultures. Finally, using these different concepts to learn the different cultures broadens the relationship between different individuals and enables understanding between members of different communities.
Hall, Edward T. Beyond Culture. New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1971. Changing Minds. Hall’s cultural Factors, 2013.
Kittler, Markus G., David Rygl, and Alex Mackinnon. 2011. "Special Review Article: Beyond culture or beyond control? Reviewing the use of Hall’s high-/low-context concept." International Journal Of Cross Cultural Management 11, no. 1: 63-82.