July 07, 2023

Context and intercultural communication

Intercultural Communication

Depending on the culture, how important is the context in the way of communicating? How to identify it and adjust its own communication accordingly? Here are some tips to guide you.

Context and intercultural communication

Communication is a central part of our daily interactions, whether in our personal or professional life. However, it is important to recognize that the way we communicate and interpret messages can vary greatly from culture to culture. Why do some people in one country communicate much more directly than in another country?American anthropologist Edward Hall has done extensive research on this topic and developed the notion of strong and weak context cultures. There is an interesting link between this notion and the implicit and explicit communication dimension of the Nomad' Akteos Profile.

What is meant by strong and weak context?

High and low context cultures refer to fundamental differences in how messages are conveyed and interpreted within a society.

Strong background

In cultures with a strong context, such as in South America, Asia or even in many Arab countries, communication is mainly implicit. People are using more non-verbal cues, social norms, and shared references to convey information. In these societies, interpersonal relationships and mutual trust play an essential role in communication. The messages are often indirect and innuendo are frequent. The context in which the messages are transmitted is essential to understanding their real meaning.

Weak background

In low-context cultures, such as Northern European or North American countries for example, communication is more direct and explicit. We say what we think. People focus more on words and their literal meaning. Messages are clear, unequivocal and not so dependent on interpersonal relationships.

How to communicate with high and low context cultures?

The importance of context in the way of communicating therefore varies across cultures and results in different styles of communication. Being able to identify and understand them is crucial to avoid misunderstandings and promote effective communication. Here are some tips to achieve this:

How to decode high-context communication styles?

1. Pay close attention to nonverbal cues

Nonverbal cues can reveal a lot of information about a person's communication style. Pay attention to their body language, facial expressions, gestures, but also silences and differences in tone of voice. Do gestures or subtle signals accompany his verbal messages? Does this non-verbal information agree or contradict his words? Careful observation of these signals will help you better understand the communication style of your interlocutors.

2. Ask questions and rephrase

During your interactions, ask open-ended questions to encourage your interlocutors to explain their ideas. Ask them to clarify their point or provide additional examples to better understand their point of view. Also, feel free to rephrase what they say to make sure you understand their message. The rephrasing confirms your understanding and shows that you value their communication. It also facilitates better communication and prevents misunderstandings.

How to adapt to low-context communication styles?

1. Don't be offended

The direct style of communication in low-context cultures may be perceived in high-context cultures as a lack of politeness or disrespect. However, respect is a fundamental value in all cultures, but it manifests itself in different ways (through punctuality, for example). Keep an open mind about intentions, without assuming they are negative or disrespectful, and focus on the message itself.

2. Prioritize clear and explicit communication

When communicating with people from low-context cultures, it is important that your messages are clear and to the point. Avoid innuendo or implied messages that could create confusion. Prioritize direct and explicit communication to facilitate mutual understanding.

Consider cultural norms

More generally, it is important to become familiar with the cultural values, norms and practices of the people you interact with. Learn about the predominant communication patterns in their culture, expectations around politeness, power distance, time and space management, cultural taboos, etc. Of course each individual is unique, regardless of their culture, but a knowledge of these elements will give you clues to identify the style of communication of your interlocutor and avoid the odds.


Akteos intercultural training helps you decipher the communication styles and cultural codes of many countries. To find out more, do not hesitate to contact us!

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