The term culture encompasses a wide range of manifestations common to a group of people. Language is one of them. In some cases language is precisely the agglutinating element, the maker, the carrier or the comprised essence of a human conglomerate. As an example I can cite nations such as Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania. However important we consider this element out of the many others to be (religion, beliefs, customs, traditions, uses, etc), it serves people to exercise their social being, and to communicate. If language and culture are known to be so inextricably linked, language development, communication techniques and cultural skills should be combined for an efficient cross cultural training, free of avoidable misunderstandings and disputes.
Edward T. Hall, anthropologist, developed the theory of Low vs. High Context Culture, based on the way in which we communicate. The notion that our cultural settings determine very differently the content of verbal and written communication and the interpretation given to what otherwise seem similar codes (words, symbols), is one argument of his contribution. He also considers the importance given to subsidiary concepts such as rank, appearance, origins, non-verbal cues, etc. In simple terms, he claimed that a "framework" determines how efficient the communication process might result. Generic standards are not applicable in what regards to communication. Conflict could be significantly reduced if we consider the cultural differences even in aspects as important as respecting agreements, telling the "truth," punctuality, creditworthiness, etc.
The context is very important, it supports messages both sent and received. To understand one needs to be "initiated" because all kind of clues that are external, additional to what is said or written are as important. Many silent rules apply in these exchanges, other factors include age, the type of relationship that exists between the parties, gender, position, location of the exchange and courtesy signs employed, among others. Latin America, Japan, Thailand, Spain, Egypt, Kuwait and South Africa are good examples of this type.
The “context” in which something is said isn’t as important. The message is literal, so attending to written messages is enough to proceed. Information is compartmented. Considerations regarding time (efficiency) are strict so punctuality is more valued than rank, position or age. People are not "trained" to read between lines, they do not act creatively and therefore they do what they are told to do because that is what is expected and no more, but no less. Instructions are important, guidelines, lists, schedules, agendas, orderly planning. Formats are imposed over courtesy, formality therefore derives from rules not from tradition. What is said is usually what is meant. Germany, Scandinavian countries and to some extent The United States are instances of this type.Most of the times people can behave one way or another depending also on many other circumstances but we TEND to act more like one of the types. Being aware of the differences is a good tool to prevent and manage disputes. If your employee is French, it seems better not to present a very detailed list of responsibilities because it might be misinterpreted as lack of trust in his/her abilities to "manage." Being resourceful is a quality that a high context culture should appreciate greatly. However, if you leave up to your Swedish employee to figure out anything without your request and instructions nothing will occur. Your unrealistic expectations will discourage both of you and the work will never get done. It makes no sense to demand an Argentinian to be on time for an appointment, but it makes even less sense to get irritated because of someone´s lateness in Morocco. A million things could have prevailed, and "understandably so" in the period of time between making the appointment and appearing in the designated location. This shows "flexibility" and the skill to accommodate to the arising circumstances, which in turn must be not only respected and understood but also valued.
I have mentioned very little of this subject but these posts should not exceed the million pages limit! It also seems weird to post without pictures like if I was giving some sort of speech so here it is my choice of the day. Because I am amazed at how much blooming is taking place around here. Madrid is full of roses of all colors and my garden (NOT REALLY MINE, certainly not under my care) too!
The house of my dreams, above: The Moomin house in Finland.