High and Low Context Cultures…..as applied to Us

 
 

Powerpoint format  http://www.fdu-harmon.com/EXEC%206660/ManagingCultDifferJune08.ppt

http://fbemoodle.emu.edu.tr/file.php/99/Chp2_Mgmt_414.ppt

http://www1.ximb.ac.in/users/fac/bppatra/bppatro.nsf/dd5cab6801f1723585256474005327c8/8a3ad4c136cc0dace5256b1e00248865/$FILE/Hofstede%20and%20Trompenaars%20compared.ppt

Have been reading the research of  Fons Trompenaars, Edward T. Hall, Geert Hofstede. I find it interesting as it is not based on the ‘shhh, it isn’t nice to notice differences’ model , which makes the assumption that any noticing of differences is bad and mean, meaning denial of reality. Now some of this kind of research is naturally going to be co-opted and spun by the reality-hater/deniers  into the tiresome and lame promoters of pretend sameness, but the original studies don’t do that. 

In this type of research, no one is getting up and cheering for either side- they are just noting that even within a larger group that one identifies as, there are ethno-cultural differences, and this is an important thing- even if one looks at the power points and PDFs and says , ‘eh, I already knew all this’- it is interesting to see it all documented, ranked and scored. You might want to see how your country of origin stacks up against the US, and see whether you think you have or have not been influenced much by what is called the ‘American culture’ as compared to your ancestors, how you were raised, where you came from , or even compare various groups to one another. This isn’t about repeating  and explaining all the stuff I read, years ago I looked at the quantserve stats and demographics , I know youze guyz read. Even Sylvester the cartoon cat* reads.. I think.

http://www.geert-hofstede.com/hofstede_dimensions.php (input various groups, get comparisons)

It’s a thing that even within the larger group of one’s general identification can get one misunderstood, offended, frustrated, confused or even angry. They may not get what you say, or take it the wrong way. They may not get the joke. They may not appreciate or even vaguely understand what you are trying to say unless you are super direct with them. On the other hand, sometimes being super direct can have the same unpleasant effects. This research is geared towards business dealings, but it can and does carry over to much of life.

In nationalism, we are so used to being polarized towards the outgroups that we have often neglected our own differences within, which are most certainly there. I noticed the polarization factor with men and women years ago, but have also seen it creep into our own larger group ina destructive way – but it doesn’t have to be that way- and no one is saying anyone in our collective larger group has to change, that anyone is wrong, that one group is better because one group is  better at this or that. The better or worse at this or that is a good thing- that’s where we get into true diversity- that isn’t based on forced seminars and annoying cartoons for little kids.

These are things that are real and we can accept and use them in a complementary way. Of course there are exceptions, but we’re not talking about the exceptions.  The more I read of this kind of research, the more I know that the things I suspected all along were true, that it wasn’t just what I thought, or observation/speculation about this group or that- and it affects how we communicate, how we function, how we interact with others, how we understand or misunderstand each other.

I can tell you a little story about this concept of high-context cultures vs low-context ones. A while back I was walking amid the cliffs and dunes at the beach missing the yellowy, warm kind of sun and making an effort at pain management from a bike accident last year and exercising, lest people start sporting bumper-stickers that now read ‘Free Moo-Mia (as opposed to Mumia, for the un-Berkeleytized n shyt)’ – when I spotted someone I knew from some 20-odd years ago that I had a non-dramatic falling out with. Or rather,she spotted me.
 
They were in a group of three, a group of one woman and two men, one of the men looked like the son of the first. She stopped and asked if  I was me.  I remembered her name but couldn’t quite remember how I knew her at first,  either school or some job I had back then. She had moved away, and was visiting. She had adopted the style of someone not remotely from here: streaked and flat-ironed layered cut, overly plucked brows and what was mall-trendy clothing out here like five years ago or more, a blingy purse, shiny trinkets, cutsey keychains. I could mentally picture her on social media sites in party pictures.  The younger of the two men, who turned out was the son of the other man, had one of those awful Ed Hardy shirts said something like ‘love kills’ and had  a skull and barbed wire on it.
                         
It seemed like everything was going ok, but unfortunately, the  greetings  rapidly devolved into a horrific white version of what I have heard was something called  the ‘Oprah and Iyanla meltdown’ , and more because of upbringing than socio-economics – they had to have had more money than us growing up- I was forced into the part of Oprah**, feeling like I should comfort and forgive -for what I don’t even know-out of sheer uncomfortableness, though  it was all very weird and though I felt bad for this person, man did I want out of there.
 
 She was standing wth one arm akimbo, missing all my high-context culture cues:  looking down, looking away, fiddling with whatever crap I had with me, repeating stuff like “it’s fine, it’s fine” and did they want to get coffee? Since when did people hash anything out on the beach with someone they hadn’t seen in twenty years? With anyone? Weren’t scenes like this confined to couples, children and the dying? Whether or not I thought it was ok, she was doing it. I looked around, homeless guy in dunes, passed out, random dog-walkers, a dude on the trail on a segway.
 
    But…even though I felt like I was being quite Oprah-ish , I discovered lamely I had it wrong, she was the one who was angry, not that she thought I was angry at her. She wasn’t having any high-context niceties, she was wanting to resolve this (this what?) now and was going into  a chronology and details.  I kept waiting for the bigger point she was leading up to, but there seemed not to be one.  I didn’t even consider it a true falling out, as no one had been betrayed or injured in any way-but she went on and on, kind of interrogating me about things I had only the haziest recollection of and entire crevasses of non-memory.
 
As I listened, I thought this did not seem timeline worthy. I heard about perceived slights-slights that never resulted in anything, slights that I was unaware I had committed. I started to realize anything I said or did seemed prissy and/or dismissive, which may have even been true. What did she want from me? Perceived slights that in retrospect had to do with this high/low context cultures thing.
 
  I remembered being in a much worse situation almost as long ago as when I knew her, and what I had to do to get out of it not being the advice that was commonly given. Just like that situation, I realized that she wanted a particular thing-she didn’t want a concept , an explanation, some discursive rant or even espresso. She didn’t even want me to try and make her feel better.
 
Somehow, either because of the cold, or the fact I couldn’t bear another minute -I managed to do a quick calculation of at least three different possibilities of what she was after, then decided toplow through them systematically, down the path of each, u-turning if I should reach a cul de sac.  I now knew what I had
‘done wrong’ in dealing with this- I had overthought the situationand had to go back to the ‘particular and specific’ hypothesis rather than the general- I had apparently effed up with her several times with the high/low thing, and was starting to do it again when I realized, without knowing the name for what it was at the time- that I was doing it again, but this time I was learning what to do.
 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
 
*Syl, whom I have mentioned before- being someone in the Church of the You’re All Going To Dino’s Deli When You Die You Swarthy Meds ,  is part of the  and Ubiquitous Larger and ironically-named..Spaghetti Monster.  Syl, whether it is me (meds) or anyone else that is your target-you have made me laugh till it actually doesn’t hurt and I appreciate it- Dino’s welcomes you, should you inadvertently prove swarthier than preciously thought, demonic cat and all.
 
 
  Professor Marvel :Better get under cover, Sylvester. There’s a storm blowin’ up – a whopper, to speak in the vernacular of the peasantry.   (Wizard of Oz)
                            
** Oprah thing- I know, I know but it seemed like the safe thing to do,usually playing mama always works whether it is nice mama or nasty mama-Oprah is such an amalgamation of things it seems one can’t go wrong when approached by angry and maybe not-so-bright lemmings. I recall reading once that being able to play a part like this doesn’t necasarily make one a bad nationalist, though I am paraphrasing and can’t remember whom to attribute said quote. I  think it had something to do with being able to sit down and have dinner….oh hell, it’s gone..
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