In an increasingly diverse global society, there is a strong need to understand the differences not only between individuals but also between cultures. Perhaps many of us have experienced that the common sense of our own culture is not accepted in the rest of the world.
In a global society, diversity is increasing and there is a strong need to understand the differences not only between individuals but also between cultures.
In this article, I will introduce the theory of intercultural understanding and what, at least, people around the world need to keep in mind for smooth global communication from the perspective of an internationally accredited intercultural protocol specialist.
- Theory of intercultural understanding What is cross-culture?
- High-context culture and low-context culture
- Culture map
- Which should be used in the new culture of global society?
- This is one of the many reasons why some people are not good at global communication
- What to learn besides English to facilitate global communication
- ICPA’s cross-cultural programmes offer a comprehensive study of these.
Theory of intercultural understanding What is cross-culture?
In today’s globalised world, cross-cultural theory has been studied in all fields.
I occasionally expressed the idea of ‘Japan and the continent’ in a rough way when talking about culture to the Japanese audience. One of the reasons for this was that Japan is extremely unique, despite the fact that it is one of the world’s economic powerhouses, which is also represented in the global community as compared with many other countries, Japanese culture can be seen to be exceptionally unique.
On earth, there are more cultures than there are countries.
Each culture has its own policies in various contexts, with different ways of thinking and common sense. In fact, there are trends in these policies, and we can see that history and topography have a significant role to play in this.
The theorisation of these tendencies is called cross-cultural theory.
High-context culture and low-context culture
Context means ‘background’. Within cultural theory, context follows the background, the so-called ‘history’.
Countries with a deep history = high context
Countries with a short history = low context
Roughly, this can be divided into the above categories.
Countries with long histories, such as Japan and China, have built up their own cultures over thousands or tens of thousands of years. As a result, there are many unique cultures of tacit understanding, and there are communication methods that are “understood without words”.
In addition, countries with close cultural backgrounds, such as Japan, China and Korea, tend to have relatively similar ‘messages’, and this is often evident when living abroad, where these countries often form communities.
In newer countries such as the USA and Australia, the culture is a low-context culture, as it is a ‘culture that can only be communicated through language’. However, even in Europe, which has a long history, we know that there are different categories, even in terms of historical background and topography, with Italy and Spain being high context and Switzerland and Germany being low context.
The image above shows the level of context in each broad area, but in fact, within each category, there is a division into high context and low context.
Once you have identified the ‘trends’, the question now becomes: how do you have to interact with those cultures?
It is very obvious that if each of us communicates with the common sense of our own country, we shall only create troubles.
Professor Erin Meyer of the INSEAD Business School in Paris has developed a ‘culture map’ that shows the detailed characteristics of each culture and how we are expected to interact with them.
The key is to be aware of one’s own national tendencies, to understand the tendencies of the other country and to communicate in a balanced way.
Which should be used in the new culture of global society?
Which should be used in the new culture of global society?
Global society has the shortest history in the world.
It is the ultimate low-context society, which requires us to adopt a low-context cultural way of thinking and acting.
In cultures such as Japan and China, where the unspoken rules of common sense are deeply rooted in their own countries, communication is based on the idea that the other person will think the same way without saying so.
As a result, when difficulties arise, it is easy to mistrust the other party.
The global world is a new community, a mix of many cultures, as in America, Australia and Europe.
It is therefore the most low-context culture, and communication needs to be simple and easy to understand, with a ‘language’.
This is one of the many reasons why some people are not good at global communication
For example, regarding Japan, even though it is considered one of the largest economies in the world, the current situation is that not a large number of people have English language or global communication skills, even in the modern era.
Japan is one of the most high context cultures on the globe, yet it has a very long history, estimated to be as long as 100 000 years.
While on the continent, a civilisation using language had developed, and social controls and countries travelled back and forth, in Japan, blessed with food and nature, people hunted, shared food with their neighbours and communicated through body language and atmosphere, without language, during the Jomon period.
This is the root of the Japanese culture of ” reading the air”, which is well-known throughout the world today. The DNA of the Japanese is so deeply rooted in the Japanese people that it is not easy to change. With a deep cultural background, it is not easy for people to adopt the communication habits of law-context cultures, which are the complete opposite.
The same thing also happens with the fact that the common language of the world is English, which is culturally opposed to Japanese.
Most Japanese people think that this is a problem with English and learn English only, but in fact, the habit of not being able to express opinions, have thoughts, or read too much into matters, even if one is fluent in English, is a question of understanding the culture itself, which is a separate issue from the language.
However, as a matter of fact, it is said to be easier for people in high-context cultures to practise low-context cultures than vice versa. This is because communication that implements the technicalities of ‘verbalisation’, rather than adapting to non-verbal communication where the answers are invisible, would bring plenty of issues closer to being resolved.
What to learn besides English to facilitate global communication
The first step is to understand how to communicate in each other’s culture.
Nevertheless, many Japanese, for example, may prefer to avoid being as straightforward as possible, out of a uniquely Japanese sense of caring, the kind of compassion that is characteristic of Japanese people and that they do not express directly. Americans, on the other hand, may prefer to communicate verbally in order to prevent misunderstandings as far as possible and to clarify their message for the other person.
In this respect, the British culture, for instance, may be helpful.
Despite being a low-context culture, the fact that it likes to use ambiguous expressions within it is familiar to the Japanese and to a sufficient extent for high-context cultural communication, while the culture of verbalising and discussing matters in theory will be familiar to Westerners.
Although modern Japanese try to imitate Americans, it is rather natural that the Japanese do not fit in with American-like behaviour, which has a completely different cultural background and linguistic culture.
The culture that we, as citizens of the world, should emulate is the one that we will have to respect and adjust to each other’s cultural aspects and create together.
Developing globally acceptable communication skills while maintaining our respective cultural identities is of paramount significance.