According to the spectrum of levels of context in various cultures was determined in 1986 by Copeland & L. Griggs (1986) and high- and low-context cultures part from course literature, it can be concluded that the following cultures are low-context cultures: German, Scandinavian, American, English, Irish, and Australian. And the following cultures are high-context cultures: French, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Latin Americans, and Asians.
I would like to show an example from my experience, when students from high-context and low-context cultures have to work together often problems occur by the exchange of information. These problems can be categorized as differences in “direction”, “quantity” and “quality”. At differences in direction students from high-context cultures like Thailand and Russian adapt to their good friends (in-group members). They communicate with them intensively (quantity difference) and exchange specific information about much different topics. The result is that every in-group member is constantly up-to-date with the facts. In comparison to high-context cultures, low-context cultures like Sweden and Germany orientate on many people of their daily life because they don’t differentiate as much as high-context cultures between in- and out-groups. So their direction of communication is orientated on personal characters and referred to situations (direction difference). They mostly communicate within their out-groups in a broad and diffuse way (quantity difference). Within communication they exchange information just to the necessary extent so that work can be done and they don’t discuss or exchange information constantly in their work environment and colleagues (quality difference).
In Thailand communication tends to be very efficient because of their information-flow at work and in privacy. They discuss everything in advance and consider meetings as an official “ceremony” where the already commonly agreed decision will be announced. This is important in the way of “giving and keeping face” because Thais are very concerned about losing face. The Swedish and Germans in contrast inform the participating attendants in a meeting about the hard and necessary facts. The decision-making process takes place within the meeting.
High-context means that “most of the information is either in the physical context or initialized in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message.” (Hall, 1976, p 79). For my experiences, high contexts can be difficult to enter if I am an outsider because I don't carry the context information internally, and because I can't instantly create close relationships. In comparison to the meaning of low-context communication is “the mass of information is vested in the explicit code” (Gudykunst, William & Kim, 2003, p 70). Low contexts are relatively easy to enter if I am an outsider because the environment contains much of the information I need to participate, and because I can form relationships fairly soon, and because the important thing is accomplishing a task rather than feeling my way into a relationship.
To understand what someone really meant in a conversation and to avoid misunderstandings it is important to realize “how” it was said. In high-context systems people expect from their interlocutor that he or she knows what the message of the communication was. This can be done without that it was specifically told Thai and Asian use a high-context communication. They place great importance on ambience, decorum, the relative status of the participants in a communication and the manner of massage’s delivery. In Thailand it might be hard to feel fully accepted for outsiders within their culture because of their big diffuse connections. In comparison members of individualistic cultures using low-context communication like Germans, Americans and Swedish sometimes ignore those differences from high-context countries cultures. In case of a meeting where those countries from low- and high-context cultures would have to work and discuss the French and especially the Thai would not interact and express their disagreement or reservations. For Thai issues, circumstances and relationships are as important as work so they would comment only in a more private or appropriate occasion.
Thai people tend to be reserved which is considered as active behaviour in collectivistic cultures. They first need to build up an interpersonal relationship – a foundation where it is possible to find the right level of context. In contrast low-context cultures they argue about each other’s opinion within the decision-making process and take discussions in their own hands to come to an agreement. Within this process members of low-context tend to be precise and provide just the required information and in case of silence it has to be filled. But this is just a generic statement. In contrast the Swedish regarding to silence have a different cultural behaviour. Silence is seen as polite and doesn’t have to be replaced with communication. In this point they differ immensely from the Americans who are seen as the characteristic low-context country. They need to know what is going on and have to be provided with detailed background information. Information is freely available in an American company.
In contrast the Germans try to hide information which is sacrificed even within a company or department. French are a high-context culture. They assume that the listener knows everything. It can happen that the “French will think the Americans think they are stupid because they start explaining everything, and vice versa.” (Hoecklin, 1995, p 98)
Moreover, I believe that when dealing with different people from high- and low-context cultures we always have to be aware of our interlocutor’s cultural origin. This helps to avoid misunderstandings and creates a better basis for further discussions.