Western Communication Style vs Eastern Communication Style

The key point of this article are that Western communication style vs Eastern communication style differ in their cultural norms. Western cultures value low-context communication, whereas Eastern cultures value high-context communication.

As I have previously stated on this website, Western and Eastern cultures differ in their ways of life and social organization in a variety of ways. They differ in their worldviews and perceptions. They differ in the norms of relationships between people, in the personal construal of self, and in the tendencies toward more individualistic or collectivistic structures in their social lives.

Let us consider the differences in the ways people in Western and Eastern societies prefer to communicate their verbal and nonverbal messages. It should be noted that the divisions in communication patterns frequently lie along lines that are different from the traditional divisions of Western and Eastern cultures.

Cultural Differences in Low-content Versus High-context Communication

The Western communication style vs eastern communication style differ in their values of low-content versus high-context communication.

While individuals differ in their relative personal preferences and orientations regarding the content or context of messages in communication, societies, their values, and cultural norms also differ in this regard. These cultural differences are evident in both verbal and nonverbal communication.

A question of interest once again is whether the content or context of messages is more important for people in their verbal and nonverbal communication. Some cultural traditions can encourage their members to rely more on the content or context of their interpersonal communication.

People mainly convey the content of a message verbally, while they express the context of the message mostly nonverbally. Therefore, low-context cultures favor verbal ways of interaction, while high-context cultures prefer nonverbal ways of communication.

Low-context Versus High-context Cultures of Communication

American anthropologist Edward Hall introduced the concepts of low-context and high-context cultures. Distinguishing these cultures, he emphasized the importance of explicit versus implicit messages in people’s daily communication. In low-context cultures, people convey the main message’s meaning in their explicit verbal codes. In contrast, people in high-context cultures tend to choose messages in which they embed the meaning mainly in the context of the interaction, such as the settings and participants (Hall, 1989; McKay‐Semmler, 2017).

Consequently, people in low-context cultures tend to speak openly, directly, explicitly, and in words with precise meaning. In contrast, people in high-context cultures prefer to talk indirectly, implicitly, and with words that have hidden meanings.

What Is the Origin of Low-Context Cultures?

Due to several cultural features, Western societies tend to be low-context cultures. People in individualistic cultures prefer lower-context messages (Gudykunst & Matsumoto, 1996; Karandashev, 2021).

Many scholars believe that the ancient Greek and Roman cultures (with the philosophies of Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates) are the origins of modern Western culture. Therefore, it is logical to assume that they subscribe to the principle of universal meanings and the importance of reasoning. These philosophical beliefs encourage analytical and rational thinking and suggest expressing ideas and thoughts logically, clearly, and persuasively.

What Are the Low-Context Cultures?

In these philosophical cultural traditions, the content of the message is more important than its context. Then, when they talk with someone about something, they need to elaborate on the details of their message and expect that their partner will do the same. This pattern of communication is prevalent in so-called low-context cultures (Gudykunst & Kim, 1984; Hall & Hall, 1990).

People in western North American countries, such as the USA and Canada, and northern European countries, such as Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway, pay less attention to the intricate details of the context in which people communicate.

Men and women choose to be open and transparent in their messages. People say everything explicitly in their words without making implicit assumptions, attempting to avoid unspoken or hidden nonverbal or contextual messages. They tend to compartmentalize their interpersonal relationships. They believe that people should express any messages openly, elaborately, and directly.

When people from high-context Eastern cultures provide insufficient details in their messages, and people from low-context Western cultures feel confused or even lost in their misunderstanding. Perceiving too little information, they can feel left out. People of Western cultural origins consider the long-lasting absence of sound and a pause in a conversation awkward. They feel that such conversation is uneasy (Hasegawa & Gudykunst, 1998; Morsbach, 1976; Oliver, 1971).

What Are High-Context Cultures?

Due to several cultural characteristics, Eastern societies are more likely to be high-context cultures. People in collectivistic cultures prefer the higher-context messages (Gudykunst & Matsumoto, 1996; Karandashev, 2021).

For people in high-context-dependent cultures, in addition to the content of a message, its context is highly informative in terms of its implicit, unspoken, and hidden cultural connotations. Therefore, they put special emphasis on the circumstances of a situation, status relations, invited people, rituals, elaborate greetings, and many other contextual details. They convey their messages mostly through contextual expressions. They convey more meaning than they say. The recipient just needs to be able to decode unspoken messages. They are very polite to everyone. How well they can say “no” without saying “no” can be superb (Karandashev, 2021).

The typical societies of the high-context cultures are China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea, the so-called Oriental cultures (Hall, 1984).

The Iberian cultures of Spanish and Portuguese societies, as well as Latin American cultures, are also high-context cultures. Societies of the southern and eastern Mediterranean and Indian cultural regions, such as the Turks, Greeks, and Arabs, also belong to high-context cultures.

In the United States, high-context cultures characterize certain cultural groups, such as Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and African Americans (Andersen, Hecht, Hoobler, & Smallwood, 2003; Hall, 1976, 1984; Lustig & Koester, 1999; see for review, Karandashev, 2021).

Variations in Low-context and High-context Cultures

Generally, Western individualistic societies tend to be low-context cultures, while Eastern collectivistic societies are high-context cultures, even though this division is not strictly along West-East lines. As we’ll see below, there is variation within those so-called Western and Eastern societies.

For example, European cultures, however, vary in their cultural norms in this regard. For example, the Germans and other northern Europeans are much lower in context-dependency than the Mediterranean, Spanish, Italian, and French people. This aspect of their communication and interaction affects many situations and relationships in their lives.

The Mixture of Low- and High-context Communication Styles

Many cultures have mixed styles of communication, which can depend on the types of relationships and areas of interaction. For instance, the cultures of England, France, and Italy have characteristics of both low-context and high-context cultures mixed with each other. People in those countries are less explicit in their communication than in other Western European and North American countries. Nevertheless, they are more explicit than people in Eastern countries like Japan and China, for example.