As described earlier, low context cultures require explicit communication where the message is fully communicated through words. By contrast, high context cultures use relatively few words and instead communicate primarily using body language, tone of voice, and so on. Members of high context cultures do not require as many words since they rely on deeper relationships, traditions, and so on to provide the context within which to understand the non-verbal communication.
Please note, this is not to say that high context cultures are better than low context cultures, but simply that they function differently. In reality, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to both ways of communicating and interacting.
Japan and Denmark are very much located at their own end of the spectrum, with Japan being one of the most high context countries and Denmark one of the lowest context countries.
[table width=”620″ colwidth=”50|50″ colalign=”left|left”]
Group oriented – group harmony is at the core of Japanese values|Individualistic – the needs of the individual come first.
Indirect, non-confrontational communication. Great care is taken not to offend.|Direct, confrontational communication. A Dane will tell you what is on his mind.
Communication relies very much on the unspoken word – gestures, facial expressions, intuitive understanding, or even silence|Communication relies almost entirely on what is explicitly said.
Value traditions, status, and formality. Rituals play an important role in determining the appropriate way to act.|Both traditions and status have relatively little importance. Danes are primarily focused on the present and are very informal.
Are used to creating deep, long-lasting relationships.|Most people are kept at arm’s length. Closeness is reserved for a very small group of people.
Use a linear perception of time (monochronic time) in business dealings with foreigners, but are otherwise highly polychronic. This means that the Japanese will prefer to:~~~~ – Work on multiple tasks at once.~~ – Work in less structured environments.~~ – Do not separate work time from free time.|Use a strictly linear or monochronic perception of time. The Danes prefer to:~~~~ – Work on a single task until it is completed and then move on.~~ – Do not value interruptions. ~~ – Prefer structured environments. ~~ – Separate their free time from their work time.
It is of course important to remember that this comparison deals with national cultures, which may be different from organisational cultures and so on.
“Denmark” (2005), Accessed on 8 March 2013 from: http://acad.depauw.edu/~mkfinney/teaching/Com227/culturalportfolios/Denmark/nonverbal.html
Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture, Anchor Books, 1977, p. 91-131
Sorrels, K., (1998) “On The Past and Future of Intercultural Relations Study Gifts of Wisdom:
An Interview with Dr. Edward T. Hall “, Accessed on 8 March 2013 from: http://people.umass.edu/~leda/comm494r/The%20Edge%20Interview%20Hall.htm
Sullivan, T. (2011) “When Cultures Collide: Low-Context Versus High Context”, Accessed on 8 March 2013 from: http://japaninsight.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/when-cultures-collide-low-context-versus-high-context/
“The Cultural Values of Japan” (2009), Accessed on 8 March 2013 from: http://www.howto.co.uk/abroad/japanese-people/the_cultural_values_of_japan/
Tung, R. (1995), “International Organizational Behaviour”, Luthans Virtual OB McGraw-Hill, pp 487-518