- Low and high context communication processing

The concepts high-context communication and low-context communication originate from Edward T. Hall and are widely used today.

In low-context communication, verbal communication gets emphasized. Information is coded in words that are expected to correspond relatively accurately to what is meant. Nonverbal communication is generally not very contradictory to verbal communication. Anger or sadness, for instance, can visually be seen and verbally heard.

In high-context communication, only a part of information is expressed verbally. A great portion of a message is being "read" from the context: the person, his appearance and nonverbal behaviour, personal history, the communicative situation, and the interaction process. These kinds of messages are often called metamessages. Metamessages are interpreted with the help of certain cues which carry cultural meanings. A smile, for instance, is a cue for interactional interpretation. In many cultural contexts it may mean well-being or happiness; in some cultures, a smile is also being used in certain situations to express embarrassment or even hate (e.g., China, Japan). Differing interpretations of these contextual cues can be a source of intercultural misunderstandings.

For verbal communication, rhetorical organization can be a contextual cue. In Anglo-Saxon cultures, for instance, people expect the main points of a presentation to be mentioned at the very beginning of the presentation. We will discuss contextual cues (also sometimes called orientation cues) more in the section on nonverbal communication.

© Liisa Salo-Lee, 2006


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