High- and Low-Context Communication in an Intercultural Environment

An Analysis of the Cultural Differences Between Germany and China

Term Paper, 2017

22 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

List of Figures

List of Abbreviations

1 Introduction
1.1 Problem and Target of the Paper
1.2 Structure

2 Theoretical Foundations
2.1 Concept of Culture
2.1.1 Definition of Culture
2.1.2 Cultural Dimensions by Geert Hofstede
2.2 Communication
2.2.1 Definition of Communication
2.2.2 High-Context and Low-Context Communication by Edward Hall

3 Comparison between Germany and China
3.1 Cultural Dimensions
3.2 Communication

4 Challenges for Intercultural Collaboration - Applied
4.1 Case: Giving Feedback to Your Employees
4.2 Analyses of the Case
4.3 Recommendations for Intercultural Communication

5 Conclusion


List of Figures

Figure 1 : The Communication Process

Figure 2: A Comparison of the Cultural Dimensions of Germany and China

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 Introduction

1.1 Problem AND Target OF THE Paper

In times of globalisation, the interaction between people with different backgrounds and cultures is more important than ever before. Nearly everyone is connected to the rest of the world and has the possibility to deal with people from other coun­tries, for example face-to-face or through the internet. Lots of people even have to deal with foreign countries and their cultures because the company they work for is dependent on international collaboration. Companies nowadays will hardly survive without introducing their products in foreign markets or merging with foreign com­panies in order to establish a well-known and successful business. In such case of conducting business with people from other cultures, an essential aspect for sue- cess lies in the understanding of cultural differences (of. Mei, L., 2012, p. 183). In particular with regard to intercultural communication, it means that it is not enough to know the relevant foreign language and being able to transform words from a native into a foreign language, because this does not guarantee a conversation without any problems. At least, it is important to be aware of how language is used in another culture and to see through the culturally specific patterns of communica­tion in order to avoid misunderstandings.

Therefore, this paper will deal with different communication styles which may vary between cultures. As communication is a very broad topic, the focus will be on the theoretical framework of Edward Hall differentiating between high-context and low- context communication. The objective is to compare German and Chinese culture and their way of communicating for the purpose of identifying similarities and differ- enees, but also to clarify the impact of cultural differences and afterwards be able to superiorly deal with cultural differences in communication. This gives rise to the following research questions:

- How does communication between German and Chinese culture differ and what problems could arise as a consequence?

- What should be considered to successfully communicate with people of other cultures?

The countries applied are China and Germany, because China is Germany’s most important trading partner (cf. Federal Foreign Office, 2017, p. 1). This means, that communication between Germany and China is becoming more and more im­portant for the economy and politics and therefore it is even more important to be aware of cultural differences.

1.2 Structure

In order to build a theoretical foundation, this paper will introduce the concept of culture by giving a definition of it and explaining the cultural dimensions of Geert Hofstede. Furthermore, the term communication will be specified shortly before a distinction between high-context and low-context communication is being made. The next chapter uses the theoretical frameworks in order to compare Germany and China with regard to cultural differences. Thus, the comparison between both cultures is based on Hofstede’s cultural dimensions as well as Hall’s categorisation between high-context and low-context communication. In that sense, it will be ana­lysed which communication style is used predominantly in both countries. After­wards, an applied example will be discussed in order to find out whether the as­sumptions based on theory can be experienced in reality. In addition, this example will help to identify challenges regarding communication arising from cooperation between these different countries. Using the theoretical knowledge and the findings of the example, this paper will outline recommendations on intercultural communi­cation. Finally, all information will be brought together and briefly summarised in order to answer the research questions.

2 Theoretical Foundations

2.1 Concept OF Culture

2.1.1 Definition OF Culture

The term culture is discussed frequently in the literature, nevertheless a common and universally acknowledged definition of culture does not exist. Already in the fifties, the anthropologists Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn identified more than 160 definitions of culture (of. Kroeber, A. L., Kluckhohn, c., 1952, pp. 43 ff.).

One considerable popular definition was provided by Geert Hofstede, a Dutch Sci­entist who researches in cultures and cultural differences. He speaks of culture as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another” (Hofstede, G., 1984, p. 21). To give examples, a hu­man group in this context could be a nation, religion, ethnic group, gender, specific age group or generation, a social class, an occupation, a type of business, an or­ganization and even family (of. Hofstede, G., 1994, p. 1). The term programming of the mind refers to ״patterns of thinking, feeling and potential acting that were learned throughout [...] lifetime” (Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., Minkov, M., 2010, p. 4). The sources of everyone’s mental program lies within the social surrounding one grew up in and made experiences with (of. Hofstede, G. et al., 2010, p. 5). This makes clear, that culture is always a collective phenomenon which is partly shared by a group and consists of unwritten social rules which were learned. In other words, culture is understood as a system of shared values, norms, symbols and heroes, that all members of a social group internalize within the framework of so­cialisation (cf. Herbrand, F., 2002, p. 15; Hofstede, G. et al., 2010, p. 7).

Hofstede and other authors agree on the fact that culture contains visible and non- visible elements (of. Hofstede, G. et al., 2010, pp. 6 f.). Artefacts and behaviour are elements which can be observed by an external person. For example, clothing, rituals, food or music. The invisible part of culture refers to basic assumptions such as values, norms, attitudes or history. Both parts of culture are very important and need to be analysed in order to understand a culture properly (of. Ikpeze, c. H., 2015, p. 52).

2.1.2 Cultural Dimensions by Geert Hofstede

Before having a closer look at the cultural differences between Germany and China regarding communication, it is necessary to find out more about how to distinguish one culture from another. Hofstede is not only known for his definition of culture, but also for his studies which helped identifying different dimensions of cultural val­ues (of. Liu, M., 2016, p. 3). Based on surveys of more than 116,000 IBM employ- ees from 72 different countries and different hierarchical levels, Hofstede differenti­ated five cultural dimensions reflecting work related values (cf. Hofstede, G., 2001, p. 41):

Power distance:

This dimension describes to which extent a society accepts “the fact that power is distributed unequally” (Liu, M., 2016, p. 3) through hierarchies and how such ine­qualities are getting handled. Cultures with a low power distance tend to go well among with the ideas of other people. Everyone is encouraged to participate in de­cisions or discussions and welcome to present his or her own point of view. In con­trast, high power distance countries accept strong hierarchical structure within or­ganizations, because they prefer to know their individual rank (of. Neelankavil, J. p., Rai, A., 2009, p. 49). Such people show a lot of respect to people with a higher ranking and would not contradict managers in public (of. Culturewise, 2013, p. 29).

Individualism versus collectivism:

Individualism refers to societies in which someone's own goals and interests have a higher significance compared to those of a group (of. Hofstede, G. et al., 2010, pp. 90 f.). On the contrary, collectivistic cultures are more likely to privilege group goals and interests of group members. Collectivistic people expect their groups to take care of them and in return give back their loyalty (of. Gudykunst, w. B. et al., 1996, p. 513). Furthermore, for collectivists it is very important not to put others in circumstances in which they might lose face “in the sense of being humiliated” (Hofstede, G., 2001, p. 230).

Masculinity versus femininity:

Above-mentioned dimension reflects the gender or pole a society tends toward. The masculine pole is focussing on assertiveness, achievement and property as a reward of success and has a strong belief in traditional roles of gender (of. Needle, D., 2010, p. 144). Thus, cultures with a strong masculinity have differentiated gen­der roles and men are more likely to be dominant. It is expected from males to work and support their family (of. Neelankavil, J. p., Rai, A., 2009, p. 50). Highly feminis­tic cultures emphasize quality of life. This includes cooperation, caring for others and equality, especially between gender (cf. Hofstede, G. et al., 2010, pp. 138 ff.; Needle, D., 2010, p. 144).

Uncertainty avoidance:

The uncertainty avoidance index gives information about the extent to which a so­ciety feels uncomfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty (cf. Liu, M., 2016, p. 3). The main issue is how people deal with the fact that the future cannot be predicted (cf. Hofstede, G. et al., 2010, pp. 188 ff.). This index distinguishes between low and high uncertainty avoidance. Societies being high uncertainty avoidant are less tol­erant for uncertainty and risks, which expresses itself in detailed planning, rules and structured environments (cf. Needle, D., 2010, p. 144; Culturewise, 2013, p. 29). This indicates, that such people prefer security. On the other hand, mem­bers displaying low uncertainty avoidance are more likely willing to “to accept ide­as, speedy decision-making and a relaxed attitude to rules” (Needle, D., 2010, p. 144). These people feel comfortable with change and new opportunities (cf. Neelankavil, J. p., Rai, A., 2009, p. 49).

Long-term versus short-term orientation:

This orientation reflects the “view of life and work in terms of a time horizon, either long-term or short-term” (Neelankavil, J. p., Rai, A., 2009, p. 50). Long-term orien­tation refers to values such as persistence and thrift in order to be prepared for the future (cf. Neelankavil, J. p., Rai, A., 2009, p. 50; Liu, M., 2016, p. 3). Conversely, people being short-term oriented are focussing on the past and the present (cf. Neelankavil, J. p., Rai, A., 2009, p. 50). They prefer immediate gratification and quick results, also they tend to spend their money whereas long-term oriented peo- pie emphasize savings (cf. Kwantes, c. T., Bergeron, s., 2017, p. 388).

2.2 Communication

2.2.1 Definition of Communication

By the use of communication, information and meaning can be transferred from one individual or group to another (cf. Chesebro, J. L., 2014, p. 1). This implicates communication including a sender of a message and a receiver. The main goal of a communication process is delivering meaning (cf. Guffey, M. E., Loewy, D., 2017, p. 128). Consequently, communication is only successful when the receiver of a message gets the information as intended by the sender (cf. Chesebro, J. L, 2014, P-2).

Delivering a message is a process which involves five steps (see figure 1). In a first step, a sender is creating an idea of what information he wants to deliver (of. Guffey, M. E., Loewy, D., 2017, p. 128). Then, this idea gets encoded, which means that the idea is being transformed into words or signs which will transmit the meaning. The message is carried by a channel such as a computer, phone, spoken word, picture or any other media (of. Guffey, M. E., Loewy, D., 2017, p. 129). Ver­bal and nonverbal messages can be delivered and there may be barriers[1]which hinder a successful transmission of the intended message, therefore the channel should be chosen with caution (of. Guffey, M. E., Loewy, D., 2016, p. 38). In the fourth step, the receiver converts the information into meaning. This is called de­coding. Finally, the process ends with the response of the receiver which is an im­portant part of the communication process as it gives a feedback to the sender of the message before. This feedback may give information to the sender whether the message was understood right (of. Guffey, M. E., Loewy, D., 2017, p. 129).

Figure 1: The Communication Process

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Excerpt out of 22 pages


High- and Low-Context Communication in an Intercultural Environment
An Analysis of the Cultural Differences Between Germany and China
University of Applied Sciences Essen
Interkulturelle Psychologie
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
510 KB
Intercultural Psychology, psychology, culture, communication, Psychologie, Kulturelle Unterschiede, cultural differences
Quote paper
Anna Rüttger (Author), 2017, High- and Low-Context Communication in an Intercultural Environment, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/414616


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