Ben built on? Relationships. Relationships are a cornerstone

Ben Donnell

            What is it that businesses are built
on? Relationships. Relationships are a cornerstone that a price cannot be placed
on. How you survive, adapt, and expand are all based on who you trust and who
trusts you. A few decades ago, relationships in a business sense were all based
around who was in your country, or more specifically, state, or city. Now, in
the year 2018 relationships have spread worldwide. As these relationships have
spread, so have the markets and the potential influence of a company. Now, you
can take your company to any country that will allow it. For example, according
to Business Insider, Apple has almost 500 stores in 19 different countries.
With this, Apple has also has become a top 40 retailer in the world, plus one
of the fastest growing retailers. (Business Insider)

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As large companies like McDonald’s, Coca- Cola, and Apple have
spread into other countries, so also have small companies. But with all this opportunity
there is one big problem. How are you, as a business, going to bridge the gap
between two different cultures and ideals? This can be very difficult,
especially between a high context culture, such as China, and a low context
culture, such as The U.S. Knowing the difference between the two and how to
bring the two together is a sought after skill and is totally priceless in
today’s business world. It will open doors for you, like the chance to travel
the world, experience another culture, and to make a big impact for your
business. It also will allow you to not only have a deeper understanding of
another culture, but also your own. (Barton) Before you can do that, however, you
must learn the basics.

            For starters, a high context culture
is defined as cultures that rely heavily on situational cues for meaning when
perceiving and communicating with others. Examples of this are China, Korea,
Japan, Vietnam, Mexico, and Arab cultures. (Kinicki, 69) In other words,
nonverbal communication speaks louder than verbal communication in these
cultures. Using body language, gestures, and the tone of your voice is key. Be
advised, people in these cultures may come off as analyzing you and not be
talkative in your first meeting with them. They are not trying to be rude, it
is just of utmost importance to them because they want to see how you
communicate nonverbally.  Additionally,
there are more unspoken and unwritten rules that people follow. People in these
cultures like to also get to know people personally before agreeing to anything
with them. According to Jennifer Beer on, there is
definitely more of a familial aspect to it than low context cultures and it is
definitely slower moving too. A low context culture, is the opposite. Written
and spoken words speak loudest in these cultures. Examples of a low context
culture are The U.S, or European countries. Some of these countries like to
write out everything in terms of laws, and agreements can be made purely off
someone’s word. How to act in these cultures may also be more spelled out than
high context cultures.

            Now the difficulty comes when a
company, like Coca-Cola, may send an expatriate to another country to bridge
the gaps between two countries. They may lay the foundations for a new
Coca-Cola plant in Korea, or run the plant itself. In order to do that,
however, you’re going to have to establish business relationships with people
overseas. With the clashing of cultures, this can become quite difficult. That
is why this skill is so needed by companies. And it is why I decided to write
this paper. Now, I will go through an example of both a high context culture
and a low context culture, comparing and contrasting the two.

First up, the high context culture I will focus on is Japan. According
to Alan Frost, a blogger on Kyoto Restaurant, a blog about Japanese culture, “Japan
is considered one of the highest context cultures in the world.” With that
comes the idea of polychromic time, which is the idea of viewing time as fluid
rather than sequentially. Deadlines to the Japanese, therefore, are not as big
of a deal to them as to us Americans. We as Americans, are used to the idea of
monochromic time, where time is linear, deadlines rule our lives, and being
late or interrupted is frowned upon. Frost also mentions how they “like to
juggle multiple tasks and prefer unstructured work environments.” While all of
this was fascinating to me, the most interesting thing I have discovered from
reading Frost’s works is that the Japanese do believe in polychromic time, but
when it comes to technology and foreigners, they believe in the monochromic
approach. In order for them to have respect for you, you must earn it.
Interruptions will not be tolerated when they are dealing with someone
different from them or new technology.

There are many other aspects I can get into, but sticking with the
how it affects the workplace, these are some other things I have discovered. Frost
talks about how the workplace in Japan is more communal, meaning the managers
do not separate themselves from other employees. They believe they are in it
together as a team, and will share the same struggles together. I really
respect that because it seems to me that they approach it almost like a family
would. This must certainly cause a more closely knit, harmonious workforce. To
strengthen their relationships even more, the Japanese do not separate
socialization from work. This is another aspect of polychromic time. They have
time in their day where they socialize with each other, strengthen their
relationships and become a single unit. Being like a single unit is something
the Japanese pride themselves on. They are considered a homogenous society,
meaning they have a strong identity and little diversity within their nation.
(Columbia University) On top of this, the Japanese do not like change. If they
do change something, it will take a long time to accomplish it. They will
discuss and discuss and discuss some more until it is resolved. They do not
rush into decisions or conclusions. In terms of decisions, it is about what the
group collectively wants rather than individual opinions. So it is important to
know your place in a high context culture. If you do become an expatriate in
Japan, do not expect to win over Japanese businessmen so quickly. They prefer
to establish a relationship with you before they reach any agreements with you.
You also must stay within the confines of their traditions and rules. High
context cultures, specifically Japan, is all about following rules and not
“thinking outside the box.” (Barton)

Next, the culture I will be talking about is a little more
comfortable and familiar to us, America. America is the prime example of a low
context culture, just like Japan is for a high context culture. We, as
Americans, like to communicate verbally. We really like to talk, unlike the
Japanese, who are keener to listening. Low context cultures hate silence. I
personally attest to this, as someone who lives in America. I take silence as
rejection, avoiding, or awkward, but high context individuals take silence as
pondering a situation, sometimes silence is necessary, and sometimes there is no
need for words due to context of the relationship. “The words we communicate with
are so important to us because they are foundations for our behavior.” (Kelm)
We also prefer spelling everything out in terms of rules and customs. Low
context cultures love writings, numbers, and data. (Kelm) Without these aspects,
business leaders in America see no support for a decision. Business leader are
also less communal, typically separating themselves from the rest of the
workers. Privacy is of utmost importance in America and other low context
cultures. (Neese) There is less of a sense of community, rather it is all about
accomplishing objectives.

Unlike high context cultures, there is more of an individualistic
view on life in general. A person in a group in America is more comfortable
stating their opinion rather than just going with the status quo. This means
that there is less unity among people in a low context culture, but there is a
greater chance for a more efficient or better method. There is also more
variety of ideas, change, and diversity. America, is of course, known for all
of this, being called a melting pot. This helps them in some relationships,
like Britain and France, but hurts them in others like China and Saudi Arabia,
who like to stay with a more homogenous identity. On top of that, speed is the
name of the game in low context cultures. “While high context cultures take
longer to establish relationships and make decisions, low context cultures are
much quicker.” (Beer) They want to be as fast and efficient as possible.

As you can see from the information you just read, Japan and The
U.S are incredibly different culturally. The two cultures have their own pros
and cons, with Japan being about conformity, harmony, and nonverbal
communication, while The U.S is about individuality, privacy, and verbal
communication. I have experienced both cultures, living in The U.S all my life,
going to Costa Rica in high school, and will be going to Israel this summer
with Union University. While I was in Costa Rica, I discovered that they do not
care near as much about time as I do, nor are they as organized as a nation as
the U.S. When we had church at one p.m. it did not matter, everyone showed up
at three p.m. They live by the phrase Pura Vida, which means relax and live the
simple life. Instead of worrying about the time the service started, they
worried about the quality of worship, and everyone going around and meeting
each other and embracing. To me, I cannot decide whether I prefer high or low
context culture. Who am I to make such a huge judgement, especially when I
clearly have a bias to low context culture and have only lived on this earth
for twenty one years. To me, I do not think that every country should try to be
one type of culture or the other. I think each culture should improve by being
in relationships with other countries. Lately, The U.S and the other low
context cultures have been at odds with high context counties like North Korea,
The Middle East, and Russia. We should be learning from one another and
respecting each other, not trying to show who the superior culture is. For
example, The U.S needs some more discipline, while China needs more
individuality. This can only happen if these countries work together and want
to make each other better. And not just working together politically, but in a
business sense. This can help the world not just financially, but just simply
make it a better place.

It is important to note that just because you are in a high context
culture does not mean you do not use low context culture. How you communicate
with someone depends on your relationship with that person, according to
ToughNickel. For example, I communicate differently with my best friend
differently than with someone I just met. With my best friend, I do not have to
spell everything out for them, and we do not feel pressure to talk to each
other every hour of everyday, because we know our relationship is established
With someone I just met, I cannot make the same inside jokes with them as I
would with my best friend, I have to spell out my thoughts because they do not
know me. I experience high context culture with my best friend, but low context
culture with a new person. So I do not control when I embrace high or low
context culture, my situation does. So this whole idea of separating high and
low context cultures and one being better than the other is simply impossible.

Since we all have both cultures in us, in my opinion, we should
take it upon ourselves to learn other cultures and bring two countries
together. Like I said before, companies want this, and it can bring you many
opportunities. Learning this skill is not just a want, it is a need. Everyone
needs to learn that people are different from them and it is ok. (
Learning other cultures can help us all not stereotype, be more accepting, and
become more self-aware. ( This will help us avoid
misunderstandings, conflict, and stereotyping. And like I said before, it will
simply help make the world a better place.

In the end, whether we like it or not, the business world has
changed and will continue to change. We live in a world that is all about
expanding businesses as far as you can. We live in a world where there are two
distinctly different kinds of cultures, high context and low context. Rather
than trying to determine which is better and being closed minded, we, as
business leaders, should jump at the opportunity to learn more about different
cultures. It will help us in the long run in terms of profit, productivity, and
just simply broadening our horizons. We as humans should work together
globally, not just wall ourselves away from each other. To quote Sam Walton,
the founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club; “We’re all working together; that’s the









Works Cited

Kinicki, A.,
& Kreitner, R. (2009). Organizational behavior: Key concepts, skills and
best practices (5th ed.). London: McGraw-Hill.

Beer, J. E.
(n.d.). High and Low Context. Retrieved January 22, 2018, from

Frost, A.
(2013, March 9). Japan: A High Context Culture. Retrieved January 22, 2018,

Barton, D. W.
(2016, October 05). Japan’s “High Context” Society – Tips on Reading
Between the Lines. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from

Columbia, U.
(n.d.). CONTEMPORARY JAPAN: JAPANESE SOCIETY Homogeneity. Retrieved January 23,
2018, from

Kelm, O. (2011,
April 15). Texas Enterprise: Big Ideas in Business from The University of Texas
at Austin. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from

Communication: High and Low Context Cultures. (2017, May 16). Retrieved January
23, 2018, from

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Dunn, J. (2017,
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