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Business strategies differ from one society to the next. Certain cultures promote collectivism while others favor individualism; some cultures prefer a high-context communication orientation while others prefer a low-context communication orientation, and so on with their corporate activities. If we are to thrive in cross-cultural contexts, we must be aware of the presence of these differences in business practices among different cultures. For this purpose, emphasis majorly dwells on Edward Hall's classification of a culture where he suggested that cultures can be categorized into either a high-context or low-context in order to understand these cultures' basic differences in communication style and culture (Nishimura, Nevgi, & Tella, 2008). Communication style can be defined as the way an individual expresses one’s self, to communication patterns that are understood while cultural issues refer to certain societal factors that all bring about a difference in business practices among various cultures (Nishimura, 2008).
To shed more light into the high-context and low-context classification of cultures in relation to business practices of various cultures, proceeding is a comparison between the business practices in the American culture and the Japanese culture where American culture is relatively a low-context culture with highly differing business practices as compared to the Japanese culture consider rather a high-context culture.
As per Hooker (2008) one obvious marker of a low-context culture is the continuous use of signs and written instructions. In a high-context culture, on the other hand, people seemingly already know what to do (Hooker, 2008), and to fit in this kind of culture requires great familiarization with the culture itself before one can really fit in unlike in the case of low-context cultures.
Taking a deeper perspective into the American business culture in comparison to the Chinese business culture, several concerned aspects are of great importance and these include; communication styles, the kind of human relationships individuals in this cultures get to develop and the sustainability of these relationships, among other aspects prevailing in the business context such as collectivism and individualism, degree of politeness, response to making changes, and privacy.
The American culture is considered rather a low-context culture where communication in business is explicit. As per an article of communicaid, a low-context implies that a lot of information is exchanged explicitly through whichever message is passed and nothing is hidden in any way (Maclachlan, 2010). It is further the case that when doing business in low-context cultures such as UK and US, chances are that you are going to discover that meaning is all conveyed in the message itself (Maclachlan, 2010). Thus, while doing business in low-context cultures that highly dwell on communication, one should expect to follow instructions more that what is happening in the immediate context.
In comparison to the American culture, the Japanese culture is considered rather a high-context culture where a lot of information is implicitly transferred during communication. A lot or a significant amount of information is implicit and rather hidden and to make it more complex, societies in this cultures assume you already or will know what to do will while communication remains at its minimum. It is further the case that in a high-context culture, an internal meaning is usually embedded deep in the information and as a result, not every bit of the information we are expected to quire from such cultures is written or orally passed (Nishimura, Nevgi, & Tella, 2008).
Thus, a great difference exists between the American and Japanese culture where; on the one hand, the American business culture's communication is highly explicit with little or no hidden information and well-detailing instructions in all communication processes. On the other hand, Japanese business culture seems less concerned about passing detailed information and communication majorly relies on contextual influences.
Relationships in business culture
Another differing aspect when it comes to business culture in the American and Japanese culture is the kind of relationships expected to form from business interactions and communication. It is worth a note to know that relationship expectations in high-context cultures greatly differ from the expectations in low-context cultures.
As per an article on "Culture at Work", a high-context culture refers to societies and cultures in which individuals have close connections over a long period where else a low-context culture refers to societies where people have many relationships but for a shorter period of time (Beer, 2003). Applying this to both the American culture which is a low-context culture and the Japanese culture which is a high-context culture, there is a great difference in the kind of expectations people in the American culture have towards relationships when it comes to business as compared to expectations within the Japanese culture. Ideally, in the American business culture, people expect specifically business and short term friendship while business lasts and a good example of this can be seen in contracts where individuals form business relationships with companies that hire them for a given period of time.
In contrast to the American culture, Japanese have differing expectations when it comes to business relationships and so do most if not all of the high-context cultures. As per an article on the Japanese Business Resource, probably one of the most important things to note about the Japanese is that they are relationship oriented. It is further the case that in the Japanese cultures, employees are often hired for life (Japanese Business Resource, 2017), something evidently contrary to how things are done in the American business cultures where business is short-term, and employment is not a lifetime.
Collectivism vs. Individualism
Another considerable aspect that sets the stage for differences between high-context cultures and low-context cultures is the fact that high-cultures value unity and have a high sense of collectivism where else low-context culture are rather individualistic in nature.
Considering the fact that the Japanese culture is a high-context culture, the culture itself is collectivism-oriented where the business community high prefers collectivism and group solidarity. Individuals in this culture tend to majorly focus on group needs and goals.It is further the case that Japan is a group-oriented culture where solidarity is highly valued over individualism. Supposedly, this can be attributed to the fact that the culture itself has a tendency to value and highly rely on relationships.
In comparison to the Japanese culture, the American culture has rather a differing preference towards group culture where the American business culture highly prefers individualism over collectivism. This equally applies to all low-context cultures where individualism is highly valued over collectivism. In the American business culture, people tend to prioritize individual needs and goals over group needs and goals. Clearly in between the two cultures stands a great difference in the way people view group orientation, something worth a note when it comes to doing businesses in either of the two cultures.
Another interesting aspect of business cultures that sets the stage for another difference in high-context and low-context cultures is the degree of politeness and advancement towards business proceedings. In Japan, which is a high-context culture centered country, observing small aspects of politeness is a big way of showing respect (Martinuzzi, 2013). For instance, while doing business in Japan, it may be best to excuse yourself from board and meeting rooms when you, for instance, want to blow your nose (Martinuzzi, 2013). Although this is the case for the Japanese culture, the situation is quite contrary to what the American culture dictates about business culture etiquette considering the fact that it is a low-context culture. This further affects interactions between individuals of these two cultures where in some low-context cultures it thought to be polite to ask questions that in a high-context (Japanese) culture is often regarded as too offensive.
Response to change
In the American business culture, change seems adaptive and in most instances is carried out in the quickest manner possible. Contrary to this, In Japanese culture, when doing business, individuals would rather take their take to make changes as long as the outcome is certain and assured rather than rush to make this changes as it is in the American culture. In Japan, decision making is done in stages and a hierarchical manner in a very cautious and conservative manner.
Privacy is another differing aspect in culture when it comes to doing business in both high-context culture and low-context cultures. Ideally, high-context cultures tend to highly value privacy in comparison to low-context cultures. On the one hand, In the Japanese business culture, people are highly private and reserved in nature (Martinuzzi, 2013) and asking certain things may be considered provocative or pushy leading to a dismissal of business and formed relationships. On the other hand, In the American culture, the situation is relatively different and so is the case when it comes to other low-context cultures. Americans are rather open and will readily ask very personal questions and find it absolutely normal (CDA Media, 2016).
From the research carried out on the differing aspects of high-context and low-context cultures, several important lessons about business culture across various cultures can be drawn and these include; high context and low context cultures greatly differ when it comes to business practices, and it is absolutely important for us to be aware of the differences if we are to be successful in doing business across various cultures. Another important lesson is the actual set of differences underlying all cultures that may be classified as either high-context cultures or low-context cultures.
It may also be important to bear in mind these expectations high vary from high-context cultures to low-context cultures. Lastly, another lesson is what may be perceived in one culture as relatively normal may be considerably abnormal in another culture, other than that privacy and general etiquette is an important aspect that shouldn't be left out in when it comes to dealing with different cultures.
Essentially, it is important to have all these aspects of business culture in mind as they somewhat form the base of understanding business culture in various contexts.
Some of the recommendations I would make to people interested in doing business across various cultures include; Doing necessary cultural research about cultures we intend to do business with and gaining necessary knowledge about these cultures that will make interactions smooth than they would have been without properly conducted research. Ideally, doing your homework before these interactions paves way us to understand small but yet crucial aspects of other cultures that greatly influence how successful we will be in doing business in these greatly different cultures.
If possible, I would recommend a classification of cultures we get to deal with based on the high-low context classification as it greatly forms a good basis to scrutinizing and classifying cultures based on several shared cultural similarities and differences in business culture. Doing cross-cultural business requires adequate preparedness and upfront information gathering to easily blend with other cultures that are considerably different.
For individuals absolutely new to cross-cultural business, I would recommend the enrollment in cultural classes for further development of cross-cultural skills, something that will greatly develop their cross-cultural understanding and eventually business practices
Beer, J. E. (2003). High and Low context. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from Culture at Work: http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html
CDA Media. (2016). American Communication Styles. Retrieved March 25, 2017, from World Business Culture: http://www.worldbusinessculture.com/American-Business-Communication-Style.html
Hooker, J. (2008, December). Cultural Differences in Business Communication. Retrieved March 23, 2017, from http://repository.cmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1149&context=tepper.
Japanese Business Resource. (2017). Facts About Japan. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from Japanese Business Resource: http://www.japanesebusinessresource.com/
Maclachlan, M. (2010, Feb 12). CROSS-CULTURAL COMMUNICATION STYLES: HIGH AND LOW CONTEXT. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
Martinuzzi, B. (2013, August 5). Doing Business in Japan: 10 Etiquette Rules You Should Know. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from American Express: https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/doing-business-in-japan-10-etiquette-rules-you-should-know/
Nishimura, S., Nevgi, A., & Tella, S. (2008). Communication Style and Cultural Features in High/Low Context Communication Cultures: A Case Study of Finland, Japan, and India. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
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